Random garbage on a San Francisco street
Today, on Earth Day, I find myself thinking about garbage. About how much garbage I create, how long it lasts, and what my garbage says about me.
I didn't think about garbage until my family moved into the farmhouse. Prior to the move, we lived in the suburbs, where garbage trucks drove by one day a week and picked up the trash. It was so simple; you put your garbage in a can and wheeled the can to the curb, and it magically disappeared.
When we moved to the farm, there was no more can. No more truck. No more magic.
Instead, we had The Pit.
Before we bought the farmhouse, we rented it. The people we rented it from had dug a deep hole in the ground a few yards from our house; a couple of times a week, they drove over with their garbage sacks and threw everything inside. The Pit horrified my parents. My father, the scientist, knew that things didn’t stay inside of a hole forever; they leached out into the soil and contaminated the ground.
We children were fascinated and repelled by The Pit; we would walk within a few feet of it and try to catch a glimpse of the rat family who lived on the brim. It had a sweet-sour stench on hot days. When people came to visit us, we went to tremendous lengths to keep them away from that side of the house. It was a source of silent shame.
As a result, we became rather obsessive about our garbage. We used multiple bins to sort it out: glass, paper, tin. Food scraps of every kind went to the animals; paper garbage was burned. Tin was flattened, and glass was reused. We tried very hard not to throw things away.
When we finally bought the farmhouse and covered over The Pit, we all breathed a sigh of relief, but we knew: it was still there. Moving, breathing, breaking down. It didn’t go away.
Now that I’m back in a place where the garbage truck comes to pick up the can once a week, I sometimes forget about The Garbage Problem. Then I read an article like the one in the January ’08 edition of National Geographic that shows a warehouse filled with discarded plastic computer monitors, and a photograph of a man in New Delhi pouring molten lead smelted from circuit boards from one pan into another. The caption reads: “His family uses the same pots for cooking.”
Talk about a buzz kill.
What was it I thought I had to have? A new cell phone? A faster laptop? It can wait.
Tea wrote a moving post on Tuesday about how she feels uncomfortable writing about food amid a worldwide food crisis; like the Food Issue, the garbage problem is deeply sobering. Just as my family knew that The Pit would affect our tiny little ecosystem, all of us instinctively understand that our garbage doesn’t magically disappear.
I know this. You know this. But writing about it and talking about it is a bummer; we'd all rather think about something else, like ice cream. Or chocolate.
But somehow, acknowledging the garbage - talking about it, smelling it, watching the rats scurry over it - is strangely liberating.
I'd rather live in a world where the nasty, smelly stuff is talked about. Hidden, it is toxic. Hidden, it seeps into waterways + dinner plates + arteries and rots us from the inside out.
Exposed, we can figure out a way to clean it up.
Happy Earth Day, everyone.