#10. Garbage is an Idea

It can seem like quite the debilitating a cycle we’ve gotten ourselves into. But as with all our cycles, it’s just a concept. Garbage is a state of mind. It’s not a real “thing”. Ok, garbage piles are definitely real things – I don’t mean that. I mean that the notion that something can be disposed of is an attitude, not a necessity of life.

Just rereading that makes me quiver a bit because it is so dug into our society that it feels like it is kind of a necessity. It feels like a normal rhythm because it has become so embedded. Icky, old, damaged, transitory stuff goes into this pail. That goes into a larger pail and that is picked up and taken away.

Even the unsightly landfill is seen as the place where this stuff is handled. This is how we handle it. It’s handled. All’s good. We’re handling it. Except, we’re not really handling it.

Granted, the supply is way, way out of control. Packaging, in particular, is a tidal wave. Produced for a short life, typically one use, it is among the most perplexing items we make. And the plastic preference has to change.

Cleaning up one’s mess, or not making a mess, or reducing messes are fundamentals that ring true all the way back to preschool. Where did we veer off?

But the whole uncontested notion of discarding waste is mystifying. How did it become so normal to cast off unwanted materials in the name of tidiness? The carefree lack of responsibility has been marketed into our consciousness and despite an obvious lack of logic, we’ve been enveloped by this fantasy that disposable culture is not only all right, but we all agree that it is all right. At first, perhaps the future ills were not apparent, but here we are.

Prosperity became about items instead of values. Items are cool, no doubt. But values provide all the measures for health and wellness. Cleaning up one’s mess, or not making a mess, or reducing messes are fundamentals that ring true all the way back to preschool. Where did we veer off? Was it the wage economy? Was it advertising? Was it politicians? Somehow it became okay to make messes. Was it hypnosis?

Garbage became OK while acquiring things became vital. Personally, I’ve felt it: the “all new” feeling; the parcel post feeling; the last one on the shelf feeling; the ‘place order now’ feeling. But, like the momentary lure of candy floss, that feeling is short-lived and can easily make one unwell later. We’ve conveniently forgotten (repressed?) the full spectrum knowledge and imperative of an unspoiled environment. Looks like we’ve got to work those values back into consumerism. Or rethink consumerism. Considering economic pressures in the average lifestyle, that could be a tall order. But at the same time, it is a logical place to start.

In nature, things keep changing. Everything is in a cycle. But with society – an organizational construct – a lot of energy is spent on setting up systems, routines, and habits.

The consumption wheel has incredible momentum. We do need things – to eat obviously, but also to live in society. One has to be careful not to judge what is needed and what isn’t. People need what they need for their own reasons and sometimes even if it is not apparent to others, those reasons are carefully thought out. I think it prudent to focus on reductions that work in one’s own life rather than campaigning for everyone to make the same changes. We’re much more diverse than that and so will be our solutions.

In nature, things keep changing. Everything is in a cycle. But with society – an organizational construct – a lot of energy is spent on setting up systems, routines, and habits. We’re often more comfortable when things are predictable. Interesting, but like the candy floss analogy, it only works for so long. Humans tend to get into difficulties when we try to stand still or when we decide that this is the way to go.

It’s part of the reason that we see changes occurring at the TS or at Raven Recycling. They’re finding better ways to do things. They’re adapting to markets. They’re changing the layout. They’re using different processes. Changes and improvements keep it nimble.

If you are in the design sector, you have a lot to think about. I tend to work from the immediate scene, at the one buyer level – me. Can I adapt what I do or otherwise encourage the shops that I frequent, to also consider adaptations so I don’t have to cope with as much waste? Of course!

Campaigns that ban products are sometimes successful like the move to reduce single-use plastic straws. But, again, we have to be careful about across-the-board decisions – those “this is the way” ideas, because it is often the case that in our zeal, we haven’t thought it completely through. Straws in the ocean and in the environment cause havoc. But straws are quite useful to aid drinking in different situations. Do we have too many? Probably. So we could make fewer. Should they be re-usable? Well, they already are re-usable – just not re-used that often. Could we make it easier to recycle single-use plastics? Probably. The problem is not actually the straw, but the disposal of the straw as garbage.

Adaptation is one of our most developed but under-utilized skills. We’re awesome at it. That kind of technique switching and re-jigging is the basis of our creative force. It’s in everyone and – bonus – it makes us feel good.

There’s been some resistance to plastic bottled water because of the single-use container and the presence of microplastics. Okay, point taken, but there are good reasons to sometimes have light-weight containers for water, such as in emergency situations when public water is compromised, during floods, to help fire-fighters, when people are displaced, etc. So, it’s really a redesign issue. Maybe a better single use material in this case will provide the sanitation that is needed without the current negative effects.

We need a new myth because garbage makes no sense.

There’s a certain charge we get from shopping. There’s another one when we solve a problem. The second one lasts. Could we transform the need to consume into a need to adapt?

Adaptation is one of our most developed but under-utilized skills. We’re awesome at it. That kind of technique switching and re-jigging is the basis of our creative force. It’s in everyone and – bonus – it makes us feel good. Whenever we make something better, even at a very immediate level like in just one household, it feels good. Improvements reverberate and when they make good sense, things become easier. Good ideas spread.

I could wait for products and laws and systems to change but it’s an easier and results-oriented road to focus on adapting the things that are right in front of me. I’m going to learn by mistakes and discover new, even quite creative ways to reduce, reuse, make things easier, more efficient, less cumbersome, and yes, even tidier.

~ Ross Burnet ~
rbmountlorne(at)northwestel(point)net