Schlageck: A rose by any other name
Several years ago I heard it said that garbage is the ugly side of plenty. No matter what you choose to call it — solid waste, refuse or some other more politically correct phrase — garbage remains just that, garbage.
You know the stuff I’m talking about, too. That awful pungent collection we set on the curb each week. Torn tennis shoes, moldy grass clippings, empty food packages, food scraps – just about anything we don’t want sitting around our houses. Most of it is originally packed in plastic and winds up in another trash bag.
Some regions of our country, especially the east and west coasts, are literally being covered with garbage and waste. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) figures show that in 2010, Americans generated about 250 million tons of trash and recycled and composted nearly 85 million tons of this material. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds out of our individual waste generation of 4.43 pounds per person per day.
In the State of Garbage In America report, the estimated tons of municipal solid waste generated in the United States during 2002 was 369 million tons. That resulted in an average per-capita generation of 1.31 tons/person. Per-capita rates calculated for individual states range from a low of 0.68 in South Dakota to a high of 1.73 tons in Kansas. And that was 10 years ago.
No matter how you haul it to the dump, this country has a rapidly growing waste problem. While some people know about this growing challenge, few have the ability, or care to exert the effort, or spend the money to do anything about solving this dilemma.
Few Americans or Kansans will feel down in the dumps about the problem as long as they can carry their bags of trash to the curb in the morning and find them gone when they arrive home from work at night.
And while picking away at the waste problem individually may not seem to matter, it can and it will. One of the easiest things we can do to slow this growing trash problem is recycle.
Recycling does not begin with empty beverage containers and yesterday’s newspapers. It starts with shopping lists and the questions we must ask ourselves before taking an item to the checkout counter.
Do I need this product?
Is the package recyclable or returnable?
Does a similar product come with less packaging?
Can I reuse this disposable product?
Is there a non-disposable alternative?
How many times can I use this product before I throw it away?
How long will this product last?
Can this product be repaired rather than discarded?
If the product is something I seldom use, can I borrow or rent it?
Will disposal of this product be hazardous to the environment? If so, is there a safer alternative?
At the checkout counter, choose recyclable paper sacks rather than non-recyclable plastic ones.
Our garbage glut is the product of an American compulsion for convenience and our need to save precious time. That said, it’s high time to rid ourselves of such backward thinking and look forward to a future of limiting our waste and the garbage we pile in already-crowded dumping sites.
— John Schlageck is a commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. He was born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas.