Disposing local

The single paragraph in Garbage Land: On the Trail of Trash that most annoyed me was this one:

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which made exhaustive studies of consumers’ environmental impacts, the things that make the biggest differenc to planetary health are transportation, housing, and meat eating. It isn’t worth it, they said, to get worked up over paper versus plastic at the grocery store.

Okay, if your choice is actually only between paper or plastic, whatever — although I have my doubts about the equivalency given the persistence of plastic in the environment. But the thing is, there’s a third, very obvious choice: reusable bags.

It’s true that most of the choices we make have a relatively small effect on our environmental impact, but even in the small choices, sometimes there’s an option that’s clearly much better than the rest. Paper or plastic? Yes, who cares — not because they’re the same, but because you should ditch both and get some reusable bags.

The more interesting thing that I started to think about as I got further through the book is the idea of local waste disposal, especially as a parallel to local eating. One of the common threads of all the waste that the author tracks is that much of it goes a long way away from where it was first deemed to be waste — very much like many things we acquire are first shipped a long way to get to us. Even as far as the other side of the world, in both cases, some of the time.

The author talks to a few people who are devoutly into reducing waste (and others interested in it for financial gain), and one of the common threads, though it’s not mentioned explicitly is that the stuff doesn’t go as far away. Instead of being trucked to a landfill or going to a sewage plant, it goes into compost toilets or to a nearby Freecycler (Freecycle is mentioned briefly, along with craigslist). If we couldn’t push our waste so far away, we’d be more likely to notice that it’s excessive and noxious. Keeping everything local makes you care where it comes from and where it goes to. Local waste may be as important to the environmental picture as local eating.

Overall it’s an interesting book, although it’s a little inconsistent on information value since in many cases the author was denied access to the places that did her waste processing.

Leave a Reply

Your email will not be published. Name and Email fields are required.