More garbage

by Yule Heibel on March 7, 2004

My iBook, it still suffers the dah-mahge, as the inestimable Inspector Clousseau might say, and my blog-reading and blog-writing will be much sparser until the case is sol-ved. And anyway, I’ve been writing a lot of garbage lately these days, so it’s no great loss. But speaking of garbage (which, along with waste and drains, is much on my mind), the other day my husband announced that he had just observed our fair city’s contracted recycling crew toss all the glass, plastic, and metal into the same compartment in the recycling truck as the paper products. In Massachusetts, the recycling guys tossed the former into one compartment, and the latter into another. So how does it work when all the recycling is tossed into the same compartment on the truck? Am I supposed to believe that there are people at the other end who fish through all the scraps of paper, dislodging them from the wet tins and glass, separating out once again what the resident had so thoughtfully separated at the curb, bundled and binned? And if it’s not persons sorting out the mess, what other form of energy is used for the cleanup? I once shut up into stunned silence a friend who enthused about her brother-in-law’s persnickety recycling habits: “You should see him! He washes all the bottles and tins, cleans them right off, they’re immaculate, and then he puts them out on the curb.” I ended the enthusiasm when I asked if he had ever considered how much non-renewable resource (i.e., our drinking water supply) he was using and how much fossil-fuel to heat the water to its optimum soap-dissolving temperature he was burning to achieve this pinnacle of green but anal consciousness. Are my fair city’s recycling guys dumping a big mess somewhere and using non-renewable resources to separate once again what had already been separated? Or are they, as my husband claimed, the same outfit that in the US is under investigation for ties to the mob, and the “recycling” is merely fancy landfill? Possibly forewashed by some persnickety recycler, hence doubly cursed landfill? Is this another “to do” item on my already chaotic agenda: To Do: call The City and find out if the private recycling contracter they hired is connected to the mob and is just dumping, for a fat fee, the recycling into a landfill somewhere up Island? A month or so ago, Monday Magazine, a local somewhat alternative weekly, ran an article about “extreme green” purists, people who go the extra mile for the environment. I was struck by the story of one woman who uses scraps of cloth for toilet paper because it’s wasteful to use paper. For “number two” she does use paper, but for “number one” she uses cloth, ditto for when she menstruates. What I wanted to know was if anyone had done a calculation of the net saving to the environment. You have to use either bleach or really hot water to wash those rags, not to mention a good detergent, and at least one solid rinse cycle (extra water!). And you might do laundry more often, not with a full load, because you don’t want those rags festering in a bucket for over a week. So how much water is she using to achieve this non-paper purity? Wouldn’t it be better to use Monday Magazine, straight off the presses? Newspaper recycles well in the compost, you’d just have to rip those wet pieces into long strips…. When my kids were babies I used a cloth diaper service, never those throw-away store-bought diapers. It’s true, I didn’t want to clog up a landfill unnecessarily, but I had an ulterior motive, too. I felt that cloth gave the baby — especially the young toddler — a better idea of the natural connection between action (urination) and sensation (wetness), something the throw-away diapers never do because they stay “dry to the touch” even if you dump a gallon of urine into them. I figured it was part of mentally challenging them to experience the world, to gain as much sensory information as was safely possible, and that “stay dry diapers” were for retards or for those who wanted to make sure their kids would be sensually retarded. (I bet Uncle Sigmund will call me tomorrow and tell me that I stunted them for life or something, but it doesn’t look like it a decade later; their “zones” are fine.) One side-effect of doing this was that they were out of diapers quicker than other babies, which meant we could stop using Dydee Diaper Service sooner. The latter had a state-of-the-art washing facility that supposedly treated all its wastewater and tried to ensure other environmentally correct things. Whatever. I say this to underscore that I have nothing against recycling and avoiding throw-away products, but I’m always questioning whether I’m hitting a point where the energy expended to avoid the landfilling product does more damage than using the product. Just because you use hot water to rinse the tins before putting them into the recycling doesn’t mean you get green brownie points (??) or that you’ve actually saved any energy. Just because you use cloth on your bottom doesn’t mean it’s a free swipe.


Joel March 8, 2004 at 2:43 am

We could of course reduce the pollution problem by reducing world population, but then the question becomes which populatee gets reduced: thee or me?

maria March 8, 2004 at 11:18 am

With one kid I used the disposable diapers, with the other, the cloth diaper service, and later, a Canadian cloth diaper system (with cloth insets) … anyway, toilet training was almost an overnight experience for the younger son!

In my “humble” opinion, compounding the disposable diaper problems are those disposable training pants that hand over the diapering responsibility to the kids but leave them “high and dry” about the sensory (and self) implications of wearing diapers, as well as the pleasures of mastery over the mystery of toilet training….

Joel March 8, 2004 at 9:11 pm

I wonder, maria, if anyone has done a study on your hypothesis. It sounds worth the experiment.

There was a region of China where they would bury the child up to her or his armpits in sand during the day while they worked in the fields. The sand would handle all the disposal problems. Anthropologists went over to determine what effect this had on their development back in the 1980s, but I never heard the results from their research.

maria March 8, 2004 at 9:43 pm

Wow … bury the child up to her or his armpits in sand? Sounds horrifying … but then, we leave our children in front of the TV, buried in an avalanche of images that numbs them (though it does not take care of the disposal problems!).

And Yule, I forgot to offer my sympathies regarding the iBook maladies.

Yule Heibel March 8, 2004 at 11:10 pm

Well, there are regions in the world where they burn women who don’t have enough dowry, too. But it’s not a model that interests me, not even anthropologically, because I can’t get disinterested enough to retain my cool about some things. Bury a kid in sand? What kind of a sad-fuck existence are you leading that you would do that? This isn’t worth studying, this is worth eliminating. It’s called torture by any other name.

Ah yes, the iBook, damn its lily-white hide! The display will go on if I manage to open and immediately tilt the lid all the way back, as far as it will go. The screen is now consistently muddy, too. What a piece of crap this thing was! I had Toshiba before, never a problem. But this? Nuh-uh, it’s garbage.

Re. population control: Dave Pollard at “How to Save the World” has addressed this often, and it’s obviously one way to go. But the question hints at the problem, too: who will restrict fecundity, and whose will be restricted, voluntarily or not? Those in the developed world (i.e., we, who are using up 150% of resources) or those in the developing world, who will start to restrict fecundity “naturally” (i.e., volutarily) when it’s clear that they can use up “their” 150% (joke, sweetie, joke!) because they’re using western ways and not relying on their kids for everything, including survival in old age….?

Did everyone read the February issue of Harper’s Magazine, the one with Richard Manning’s article, “The Oil We Eat”? Must read, totally must read. Here’s a nice thread on a comment board about Manning’s theses.

Joel March 8, 2004 at 11:39 pm

marie and Yule, I couldn’t see myself doing that to a kid either. The job of the anthropologist is to keep an open mind just in case this sort of thing turns out to be smarter than we realize, but if the study had found anything productive about the practice, I am sure that the Yuppies would be buying sand cans to bury their own kids in while they went to work.

The issue of not having kids is a sore one for me and I’m going to stop now before I burst into tears. Nothing you said.

brian moffatt March 9, 2004 at 12:37 pm

Here in fair Northumberland County we toss all our recyclabes in the same bag, save newspapers. And yes there is a large recycling facility where real human beings pick through the stuff, and sort. At least this is the way it began. This is what they tell us. But you know how things evolve…

On a side note: my imac just died after a long illness. Landfill? Not necessarily. Apart from impending legislation there are several firms opening up large plants in order to strip the cadmium and lead from old office equipment – computers, fax machines, copiers etc. Makes business sense if nothing else. (look at me: apologist for the plastics industry!) Raw materials for the making of plastic have doubled over the last eighteen months. I’m kinda foggy on the details, ie links- forgive me. I’m still grieving the loss of my ‘pooter.

Joel March 11, 2004 at 12:25 am

What do you do with your children, brian? 🙂

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: