Garbage

Carol A. Hand

A few days ago, I checked the news on Huffington Post and read a story about garbage, something I have been thinking about lately. On Mondays and Tuesdays, overflowing garbage containers line the alley behind my house. I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know where it goes.

Zero Waste – Four Hills Landfill, Nashua New Hampshire -(Wikipedia)

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I still haven’t made it a priority to investigate exactly how the city where I now live handles trash, but I do remember “garbage mountain” in the last city where I lived. The mountain rose high above the flat landscape, placed close to the state prison. I often wondered how the prisoners were able to breathe because I could smell the heavy stench miles away.

The Huffington Post article I read was disturbing on a number of levels. Here’s a brief excerpt:

China No Longer Wants Your Trash. Here’s Why That’s Potentially Disastrous.
The country has been the “world’s wastebasket” for decades. But starting Jan. 1, China has said “no more.” (by Dominique Mosbergen)

On Jan. 1, China made good on its promise to close its borders to several types of imported waste. By the next day, panic had already taken hold in countries across Europe and North America as trash began piling up by the ton, with no one having a clue where to now dispose of it all.

For more than 20 years, China has been the world’s recycling bin, accepting an enormous quantity of recyclable waste from nations worldwide. In 2016, China processed at least half of the world’s exports of waste plastic, paper and metals — some 7.3 million tons of trash in all. The U.S. exported 16 million tons of waste to China that year, worth about $5.2 billion. Britain sent China enough garbage to fill up 10,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

….

The ramifications of China’s recent ban has been described with language suggestive of a natural disaster. It has sent “shockwaves” worldwide, said Greenpeace East Asia plastics campaigner Liu Hua. Arnaud Brunet, head of the Bureau of International Recycling, compared the ban to an “earthquake.”

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As recyclers and governments now rush to figure out what to do with their mounting garbage, environmental activists warn that the initial effects of China’s ban could prove detrimental to the environment and human health.

China’s decision seems reasonable to me. It’s not the job of Chinese citizens to continue to be buried in the world’s toxic garbage. I also wondered why the author of the article failed to use this as a golden opportunity to mention inventions that could potentially address a crucial part of the issue, plastic. I remembered reading about a Japanese inventor who had developed a process for converting plastic back into oil and did a quick internet search.

The inventor was Akinori Ito. He “created a household appliance which converts plastic bags into fuel. The fuel can be used for various applications such as the generation of heat” (interestingengineering.com).

I also found a fascinating video that features Ito describing the motivation behind his invention and demonstrating how it works. (This Japanese Invention Can Recycle Plastic into Oil).

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My discoveries didn’t end with Ito. John Bordynuik describes his invention for converting plastic to highly refined oil on TEDxBuffalo.

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In doing a little more research, I discovered that Borynuik was later found guilty of misrepresenting his company’s performance to stockholders. Initially, I decided not to post this piece and trashed my draft post. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about this issue. After further reflection, the corporate agenda to discredit an innovator by any means made me seriously question why any one has to make money on a process that helps us resolve a pressing human and environmental issue. Isn’t it enough of a benefit to deal with mountains and oceans of plastic pollution in more responsible ways?

It’s true. I was looking for an easy way out. I wanted someone else to rescue me from the responsibility of doing more myself to reduce what I contribute to the problem. It is also true that I believe science can help provide answers, although more than five decades have passed since my early college days when I was majoring in biology and chemistry. Setting our scientists to work on solutions to pollution would be a far wiser investment than building yet more bombers, nuclear weapons, and continuing our unsustainable environmental exploitation.

What concerns me most about Huffington Post’s article is the fact that Ito’s video was posted in 2010, and Bordynuik’s was posted in 2011. The science is known and both Ito and Bordynuik have demonstrated that it works, albeit on a small scale that requires time and money to carry out at this point. Their work suggests, however, a wiser way to invest in the future without fracking and drilling new oil wells on the shores of Alaska and Florida.

Just think what we could do if we stopped manufacturing new reasons for international conflict and agreed to work together to solve this challenge in ways that make sense! Figuring out how to deal with our own garbage responsibly is a daunting enough challenge to keep us all busy for the foreseeable future.

 

Mountains of waste pile up on the garbage island of Thilafushi – April 2005 (Wikipedia)

I wish that Huffington Post had taken a little more time to do research and frame their story in a more constructive manner.  It makes me wonder whose interests are being served by presenting information in a tone that may well foment yet another excuse for international conflict. Our garbage.

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50 thoughts on “Garbage”

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Bette. It is a topic that deserves far more thought and study. It felt important, though, to share what I had time to do quickly, though. I worry about reactions to the news about China’s decision…

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  1. There is so much to worry about in this world. But we must All help, All do what we can and not stick our heads in the sand. If we do – the Earth will not stand a chance. Interesting post.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You touched my old environmentalist senses with that post, Carol. I imagine a scenario where vehicle exhaust comes out as solid waste instead of poisonous gases people can’t see and are quite happy to let the atmosphere deal with. Shipping garbage to China is just like car exhaust: if you can’t see it, it don’t exist. It boils down to personal responsibility which the current extremely predatory capitalistic system doesn’t want anyone to know about. As China certainly has every right to refuse the west’s garbage, the west can “retaliate” by not buying Chinese imports of over-packaged slave-labour manufactured dollar store/Walmart goods. The guilty party here is the bloated western consumer.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I love your response, Sha’Tara. I was thinking about labor in China when I read a post rating textiles using green stars. Silk was one of the top green choices. I’ve not been able to even consider buying anything silk since I learned from a visitor to China how women were seriously injured and scarred while processing silk, picking out threads with their bare hands from boiling vats. Your comments about slave-labor are apt, with US corporations knowingly complicit. But I have to admit that I can’t be too hard on working people for their choices. They’ve been programmed to consume by experts in psychology for decades.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. From your comment: “I can’t be too hard on working people for their choices. They’ve been programmed to consume by experts in psychology for decades.” Quite right and also they’ve been economically forced to support this system just to make ends meet over here. I don’t know if you have a problem with the word “evil” but I see man’s civilization having been hijacked by an evil system run by evil people. I call it the problem of evil. The more we ignore that source, the more corruption and environmental degradation we live under. The only solution I see to that is for individuals world wide to choose to live an impeccable life. If they continue to swallow the blue pill, then it’s goodbye world after the good buy.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Carol, I recall seeing the video about converting plastic back to oil. I assume that there’s been no push for this because the petroleum products industry would be impacted.

    With regards to our waste, it’s time that we expanded our own recycling industries.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Rosaliene. From what I was able to gather, it seems Ito’s invention has remained rather modest, although I found videos posted by other communities that were using it, and videos of the global work Ito has been doing to raise awareness. As you aptly point out, it is time for all of us to become involved and do our part.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks, Carol. How to dispose of garbage is something we don’t think about much. And yet we are the ones who create it by the products we buys and dispose of. It would be good if countries would seek out the best solutions to recycle instead of friction.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I try. I’m always picking up trash in my community, and disposing of it properly. I’ve jokingly dubbed myself the “trash whisperer.” Lol 😁 I get annoyed when I see people throw recyclables in the trash receptacle. I’m like “dude, just put the bottle in the correct bin…ya know, the one 2 feet away.” Lol Have a great weekend!

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Thank you for going
    there, Carol!
    Nobody wants to think about,
    talk about or do anything
    about garbage.
    But, since there’s no
    giant trash compactor
    under nearby mountain,
    here’s Pete Seeger’s lesson:

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Huge money figures, also environment pollution. When I have read your post, I remembered the “Trash” 2014 movie. It was really good movie and was telling another side of the story, so the ones who live and make money from city garbages. It was really good movie my earthling friend, I recommend it, if you find a time to watch.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Migo and WD, and once again, please excuse such a belated reply. I am finally trying to catch up on all of the things I had to postpone as I focused on work, family responsibilities, and home repairs.

      I will see if I can find the movie “Trash” that you recommended. On one hand, I am glad that people are able to make use of others’ garbage, but I am sad that they have to do so, and in some cases, at great risk to their health and safety.

      I send my best wishes to you and thank you for your patience. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you do have a beautiful soul, my earthling friend! And we, WD and I thank you for your kindness! Also, we send to you our best wishes too. 🙂 And I have realised I gave lack information about that movie “Trash” 2014. This movie actually tells the poverty of the people and how much they are struggle in the city garbages and that is told by the children’s eyes and lives in Brazil. It is very effective and I hope you would watch some day!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. When working with some passionate and compassionate executives from EPA a few years ago, I became aware of this and found it to be alarming then. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/07/ocean-plastic-patch-south-pacific-spd/
    We can all do our part to care for our collective environment. By thinking globally and acting locally…within our homes…in the decisions we make, we CAN make a difference! Great piece to awaken us to our responsibility, dear Carol. 💕 Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I apologize for such a belated reply, Carrie, but I want to let you know how much I appreciate your thoughtful comments and the powerful video you shared. The amount of pollution we produce is alarming and It is so deeply troubling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Carol, no worries at all about the timing of a reply. I know that you read all comments. My comments are to acknowledge your offer. And when I can, to add to the beauty and powerful writing you have given us here. 💕 Thank you, always.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Michael. I hope we can learn how to solve this issue in time, too. How I wish we could put the power of world scientists behind these kind of issues rather than on weapons creation… Perhaps one day we will.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Super important and incredibly well written post, Carol! I am interested to know more. And not shocked at all that there are solutions already existing. There was a man here in the valley I live who was collecting used plastics and converting to gas but the local officials shut him down and no headway has been made since. Thank you for presenting this to us! Always so grateful.

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful, lovely comments, Tori. I am sad to hear about the local officials in your area, although I did wonder about the conversions process while I was watching the videos. What did it do to the water? Was the water filled with toxic chemicals as a result? Could the water be purified, and how could any toxins be safely dealt with? I don’t think there are any easy answers, I just wish these were the types of questions more scientists were exploring.

      Sending my best wishes to you. ❤

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  9. “ I was looking for an easy way out. I wanted someone else to rescue me from the responsibility of doing more myself to reduce what I contribute to the problem.”
    A truer statement never spoken Carol, I had to take a strong look in the mirror after reading that. Empathy has become an easy “like” click but if not careful, reality is more like EMP-T-Y.
    I heard a similar story on NPR. Resourceful hardworking people are our friends to the east. Human Rights aside, while we bicker over puritanical differences and move toward nationalism, the rest of the world are looking to China. As I understand they are the new leaders in solar power technology. IMHO this and closing the garbage dump sends a message we learned the hard way back in the 70’s.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Excellent post.

    I read about this decision by China (I don’t recall what site, maybe the same article) and remembered an event from 1987 that created notoriety for an area I’ve lived most of my life – Long Island, a suburb of New York City. I hoped back then we’d learn something from this unfortunate incident.

    It was known as “The Garbage Barge” and was an early hint of a growing problem that is ignored by most of us. New York City is the most populated and most densely populated city in the U.S. Long Island is the most populated suburb in the U.S. with about 3 million people, more than some states. It makes this part of the country a testing ground of what the rest of the country could face if we don’t stop our insane obsession with our current way of living – in denial of the insidious destruction of the planet we are causing with mindless consumption of mostly unnecessary possessions. New York City and Long Island generate so much garbage it has been trucked to other states for decades. Finally, this problem received attention outside New York.

    From the New York Times: “After more than eight weeks of wandering in the Caribbean and up and down the East Coast in a futile search for a final resting place, Long Island’s outcast garbage was anchored off Brooklyn yesterday, awaiting the outcome of another round of legal and political wrangles. Rejected by six states and three countries, the trash and garbage -3,100 tons of baled refuse piled atop the barge Mobro and towed by the tug Break of Dawn – had an invitation to return to Islip, L.I., where its 60-day, 6,000-mile odyssey began. But the latest problem was how to get it there.

    “It arrived in New York harbor Saturday night after being rejected by North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Florida, as well as Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas.”

    One day we’ll realize that much of this garbage was garbage before it was ever thrown in the garbage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “One day we’ll realize that much of this garbage was garbage before it was ever thrown in the garbage.” That’s a great line, but what would it take to awaken the ordinary consumer to the environmental cost of garbage? We, young environmentalists of the time, began struggling with this issue in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We began with newspapers and cardboard, finding old barns in which to store and work; designing balers, rounding up volunteers to do the work and then, dead end: no one would take it. Sure the local press praised our efforts but the local politicians did all in their power to stop us. The more things change…

      What would it really take? Education? Forcing people to spend a day a month just sitting on top of a mountain of garbage with the gulls and the crows watching the garbage arrive and being pushed over the edge of the mountain with giant machines? I can bet what the politicians will come up with: a massive increase in pick up and disposal fees, using the crisis to line their own pockets even more as they are now doing with “green” fees.

      One “solution” which is a non-solution, would be for the “garbage stores” as I call box stores, to have to take back all the containers their crap is sold in, with or without deposit scheme. But then what?

      We’re back to the problem of consumerism, and that is now what the capitalist system exclusively runs on so “we” need to turn our backs on capitalism as of foremost importance: get to the source of the problem, turn off the tap. But everybody almost to the last firmly believes that capitalism is what makes the world go round and without it we would be grubbing in the garbage, poor, homeless, without schools or health care… Oh, say that again? Isn’t that exactly what capitalism is causing right now, or did anyone notice?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree completely. I’ve tried to pull the curtain and expose Capitalism for what it is – a violent, soul-deadening religion that creates poverty and misery and is used to garner support for the governmental system of Corporatocracy – for decades. Few people want to hear it. I was banned from commenting on Youtube during the OWS movement because of my attempts at educating people about it, especially because of my comments about the Federal Reserve.

        I also lost many followers on Twitter due to questioning Capitalism and our mindless backing of Israel.

        People willingly embrace ignorance over reality. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Thank you for engaging in such thoughtful dialogue, Sha’Tara. I agree. So much of what is produced is garbage even before it hits the shelves of big box stores. It fills empty lives for the briefest of moments before it fills the earth and seas for eons to come.

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    2. A powerful example of the magnitude of this issue for all of us, A Shift in Consciousness. Thank you so much for taking the time for such a thoughtful comment, and please excuse my belated reply. I send my best wishes. ❤

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  11. Thank you for this uniquely interesting post. As with many of our problems, the powers-that-be usually kick the cans down the road (until they end up in landfills). It is said that where there’s a will, there’s a way — the question is, when will they summon up the will? Probably not until they absolutely have no choice — that is how it usually works.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for sharing Carol. From a permaculture and ecovillage design perspective (what I have studied and try to apply to my life and work), there are many approaches to the problem of garbage. The first one is educating people about reducing consumption, as this is the #1 reason we have so much garbage now as compared to 50 or 100 years ago. If we learn to consume less, we will cut the problem of garbage at least to its half (if no more), we buy things that don’t last and we don’t need, then they go to the trash can too soon and without much opportunity to recycle or upcycle. The second approach is cradle-to-cradle (C2C) design, something that is already being implemented but not yet as the scale that is needed. This type of whole-systems design approach looks at designing things with their “desuse” step in mind: how can things be designed to last longer, have many functions and then be upcycled at the end of their useful life? That’s well known and doable, but not well received by capitalism (same as cutting consumerism), as capitalism needs us to buy stuff and needs stuff to be thrown, not repaired or upcycled. The third option goes hand-in-hand with the second, as involves eliminating anything that pollutes or that is not renewable from our manufacturing. Plastic comes from fossil fuels and its nature makes it difficult if not impossible to upcycle, even when converting back to fuel, it will pollute and the process will be wasteful, polluting and using a non-renewable source. The four approach is actually being applied in many cities already. In Vancouver and Surrey (where I live), the city asks all of us to separate the waste and provides us with special bins to do so. One is for kitchen and garden “waste”, which in my case goes mostly to composting on my own, but no the things that cannot be composted in a townhouse such as animal or dairy waste and oils. The city is building a fuel facility that will work with all this organic waste as a source! The other bin is for things that can be recycled (and the city separates them and distributes them among different centers for treatment) and the third one is for “everything else” or what cannot be composted nor recycled, and includes food packaging, plastic bags, labels and other small things like that. The centers for recollection around the city here accept things from old computers and appliances to batteries and light bulbs and work upcycling some of them or distributing to other processing centers.
    In my 13 years in Canada, I haven’t seen a landfill and people are also good at donating clothes, household items, books and furniture to thrift stores and charities that repair and sell or donate these items.
    There are many solutions and many are being implemented already, there’s lots we each as individuals can do, starting with #1. It is a slow process but I think I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the last few years, including the opening of the first “zero waste” store in this area where
    people can finally go shopping for food and personal products and be sure they won’t have any packaging. People bring their glass jars, cloth bags, etc. and then reuse them for the next batch!
    We are getting closer, but we may not see the process through in our own lives…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom about wiser ways to address our growing piles of garbage. I agree that we have stop buying things that we don’t need. I also remember the days (not so long ago) when things were built to last. It should be a badge of prestige for those who take care of what they have for as long as possible. Most of my clothes are more than 25 years old. They were made well out of natural materials. My clothes dryer, which is far newer, only works on one setting, but it still works well enough. I like your idea of “zero waste” stores. That is something I will think about the next time I am tempted to put the lettuce I buy at the co-op in a plastic or paper bag. I actually could bring one of my reusable plastic containers. Try though I do, though, I am aware of how much water I use in gardening and food preparation and how many chemicals are involved in home repair projects. When I think about how many people don’t even consider these issues, I can easily feel hopeless…

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