So I was reading with interest this thread about nuclear energy, and lots of ignorance in my pea-sized brain is being fought. One thing that jumped out at me was the need to look at problems/solutions with much more long term vision than we “here & now” human animals tend to do.
Another issue occurs to me regularly and I haven’t heard much about it lately, so I wonder how it’s being looked at these days. It goes like this (and you’ve heard it a million times, but this is where the question always starts with me):
Every day at work, after I wash out my coffeepot, I tear off a paper towel from the roll and dry off my hands, then throw it into the trash. Then I look at that paper towel in the trash can and think of all the paper towels I’ve thrown into the trash (and feel guilty and promise to wipe my hands on my pants next time). But then I think about all of the myriad other crap I throw into the trash. Then I think about all of the myriad other people throwing their myriad other pieces of crap in the trash. (yes, I recycle a lot of my trash- do they?)
Do we still have a waste problem? (I gather the answer is yes) Are we still dumping everything into landfills? (I guess the answer is yes, although I haven’t heard nearly as much about it since global warming became the issue du jour) How much is really, seriously being recycled? Is trash still piling up so great that we don’t know what to do with it all? (My guess is yes)
Obviously the simple answer is yes, consumerism/trash/landfills are still a problem, but why does it seem like such a casual problem again? Especially now that there are other hot-button topics like global warming to hold people’s attention. Do people still care about it as much as they used to?
Actually, not so much. Back in the 80’s there was a huge scare about it all, so the trash companies went and… bought some more land. End of crisis. Sure, trash sounds like it’s huge and all, but you’d be amazed how compact you can make it.
Modern incineration aka waste to energy can greatly reduce the volume of waste, produce energy arguably about as clean as coal, and the waste ash has some properties that can be used for other applications as raw materials.
Those paper towels are carbon neutral since they came from trees which would either burn or decay on their own. In waste to energy or breakdown in landfills the carbon is also released.
Paper towels are not carbon neutral. It took energy to make them. It took energy to get them to you and it will take energy to take them to the landfill.
Trash is a big deal in California. The two major cities have to haul trash into the mountain passes to dump it. There they have rock formations where toxic runoff is contained in basins and doesn’t immediately enter the scarce aquaducted water supplies.
And over 1/3 is now redirected to recycling or composting so that it doesn’t tax the landfills.
Every city works at the problem, and every citizen has separate bins for different things like yard waste and bottles and newspapers.
The problem didn’t “go away”, we live with it more and more every year.
As a historian, landfills fascinate me. They’re time capsules because hardly anything inside of them decays. (Banana peels from the 1940s which are still recognizable have been excavated by the University of Arizona’s Garbage Project.) There is an incredible amount of demographic/sociological information that can be gleaned from studying garbage.
This is an absolutely fascinating book on the topic.
THAT will be next on my list to read!