Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Secret Life of Garbage

I've been watching a show called "Trash Inc.: The Secret Life of Garbage" on CNBC TV. Wow, what an eye opener. In spite of our growing awareness of the need to recycle, trash is still a huge problem around the world. Even though American companies are finding profitable ways to make carpet and cloth (polyester) out of plastic bottles, Americans only recycle about 20% of their bottles, so the companies have to import most of the plastic from other countries like Canada and Mexico.

The show gave examples of beaches in Pacific islands like Hawaii that are virtually made of plastic! It is several inches deep, some ground down to the size of sand. They showed a bit of "the Great Pacific Garb age Patch" which is bigger than the continental U.S. and is estimated to contain 31/2 million tons of plastic floating just under the surface. This plastic wasn't thrown off ships- it's washed down from roads and river beds of U.S. and Asia. Fish mistake it for food and try to eat it. (Reminded of another documentary that showed how sea birds' chicks are starving to death with their bellies full of plastic.)

Whoosh- and the land fills! We have made great strides in making them safer, but they are still so huge! China's are overflowing, the government can't keep up with the need.

All this makes me more resolute about recycling my own trash as much as possible, as well as helping others cut back on waste and unnecessary possessions. The more we can live simply, and without clutter, the less we will add to pollution of the land, water and air. I'm trying to cut back in little ways too, like using old toothbrushes as scrubbing tools in kitchen and bath, or finding out how long I can reuse a "disposable" razor! (It's turning out to be quite a lot!)

We could save so much more by not using so many throw away items. Bring your own cup to work, or use a metal bottle or canteen while hiking or biking. And of course- if you use anything plastic- recycle, recycle, recycle!


  1. I keep thinking back to the Gene Wolfe "Torturer" series, which was set in the somewhat distant future, and the canyon walls were all layers of ancient landfills.

    I completely agree about recycling more. I'm still working on a practical solution for composting kitchen waste (my latest intriguing consideration? Vermiculture!).

    One of the biggest challenges, however, is "how do we get manufacturers to stop overpackaging things?" When I buy printer ink from Costco, for example, they encase the cartridge in tough plastic, and seal it onto this great big piece of cardboard. Thank goodness, both the plastic and cardboard recycle, but recycling itself takes lots of energy. Yes, I know, the big package is to deter theft.

  2. Guess what, the economy is forcing manufacturers to cut down on plastic! Many of them are finding cheaper ways to package their merchandise- which includes using recycled materials! It has the secondary benefit of making it less arduous to get your purchase opened once you get it home!