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February 28, 2014

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Cut down on consumption to avoid being buried by garbage

Spare a few minutes and think how you have contributed to the landfills that are closing in on the city or village where you live.

How many plastic bags did you toss out today? The wrappers that were picked up by the wind and caught in tree twigs? That bag may sit in a landfill for up to 1,000 years before it disintegrates, and the pollution resulting from its degradation can hurt creatures searching for a meal.

How many plastic bottles did you throw away today? Those empty vessels of our thirst, eminent stains of our “prosperity,” made of fossil fuel, and end up in our rivers and oceans.

How much fuel or energy did you consume? The industrial blood that produces the smog that poisons our air, and chokes off the life of rivers and oceans. And then spare a few more minutes listening to what Tom Szaky has to say by way of mitigating the effects of our profligacy.

According to his “Outsmart Waste: The Modern Idea of Garbage and How to Think Our Way Out of It,” unless society changes its attitudes, and people change their behaviors, the garbage problem will only get worse.

The damage we inflict is not just directed at our immediate habitat on the continent.

We are disfiguring the whole face of the Earth by clogging the oceans with acres of floating debris, giving rise to the Great Pacific garbage patch.

Also known as the Pacific trash vortex, the patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.

Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals, and in their young. The waste is eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish, which might ultimately be consumed by humans.

Advertisers and our leading economists are lecturing, persuading, or bullying us to consume more because, according to them, if we cease to consume, human civilization will collapse.

Stigma of poverty

As more and more countries are fighting to erase the stigma of poverty, they are turning their people into pristine consumers, which increases the demand for more synthetic materials.

For developed countries, none of them is prepared to trade “moderated economic growth” for a “healthy planet.” That means the planet we inhabit cannot but be up to its neck in waste.

“The production and consumption of cheap goods were the silver bullets that brought us out of national depression and global war and into the greatest period of economic prosperity in human history,” Szaky observes.

Recently, one of our office cleaners, while sweeping the floor, took a peep at the murky air outside and said, “I do not know how we are going to work out this mess.”

She observed that in former days, although we did not have the all and sundry novel products we have today, we still had clean water and air.

Ironically, the simple janitor is able to characterize the tradeoffs more clearly than many of our elite economists, who easily panic at the slightest fluctuation in economic growth figures or quarterly profits.

Still individuals can make a difference. They can lead to real change by minimizing their own footprint on the Earth, by following some simple principles Szaky prescribes.

The first principle is to stop buying anything that you do not truly need. Consumption and the “throwaway” mentality are at the root of our predicament. By refusing to consume blindly we express our strongest disapproval of introducing oil-based synthetic materials into our biosphere. These materials, extracted from under the surface of the Earth, cannot be processed by living things.

Since they cannot be recycled, they are infinitely more dirty and poisonous than a wild animal’s feces that can nourish a bush and produce fruits that’s eaten by a bird that may be eaten by the animal that left the feces in the first place.

If you have to buy at all, buy fresh fruits and vegetables that aren’t prepackaged. Buy durables, or used products.

Reduce waste by adopting these circular solutions: Reusing, upcycling and recycling. Of these, upcycling requires a bit of imagination to find usefulness in an object beyond its intended use.


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