All that unfortunately comes into direct conflict with something I hate: waste. Our lives are incredibly wasteful and I have been conscious of that since before I knew about things like pollution and the environment.
While air and water pollution are horrible things the world certainly could do without, for some reason the notion of trash sitting in giant pits all over the world has always bothered me the most. My first memory of seeing a landfill is from my early teens, having gone with my father to dispose of yard waste. All I remember is seeing an ocean of refuse extending to the edge of each horizon, like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. My perception was forever changed of our little kitchen trash can upon seeing the collective result of millions of such little household cans.
Becoming an adult, however, changes one’s perspective again. When I chose to purse a career in journalism, it did not occur to me that my noble profession was an inherent contributor to our throw-away society. The beautiful pages I work so hard each day to fill with well-written articles, compelling photographs and eye-catchng design will, in the span of 24 hours, become someone else’s trash.
According to environmental news website www.ecology.com, the world uses 300 million tons of paper each year. Sitting at my desk it is easy to see how it adds up. There are receipts, stamps, printer paper, checks, the little box my checks come in, notebooks, CD sleeves, business cards, file folders, record covers, my college diploma in a frame, books and probably lots of stuff I don’t even realize contains paper.
Thanks to recycling, paper’s place in our landfills has been greatly reduced but I use it simply to illustrate the world we have created for ourselves, one in which the things we do are by their natures disposable.
We make things knowing from the first step in the process it will be thrown away. I’m not just talking about stuff like newspapers whose informative value hopefully make the world better. I mean stuff like the can of air sitting to my left. Its sole purpose is to blast air onto various surface and remove dust. Apparently, my own mouth and lungs are not adequate for this job, or even a feather duster that could potentially last my entire life if I took care of it.
All this is nothing new. The question is: “What can anyone do about it?” Admittedly, I only have done a little. I always hated plastic grocery bags so I now bring my own bags to the store. I put my bottles and cans in the recycling bin and I try to avoid buying things that will be of little use and just be thrown away later. Heck, I don’t even get a newspaper at my house. I read everything online and while a part of me laments the decline of the print newspaper, part of me rejoices that we can get rid of all the ink and paper that are wasted every day. I am also happy that digital photography was invented before I spent a lifetime doing something else I love while lamenting the materials used up in the process.
But good intentions and baby steps aren’t enough. It would be nice to think people will do it themselves, but as long as there is a buck to be made it won’t happen via free will. As much as it may hurt and as much as I wouldn’t like it at first, maybe government needs to mandate change. No more manufacturing of stuff that is made knowing it will end up in the landfill. No more making TVs and other appliances that are so cheap when they break it is better to throw them away than fix them just so companies can make more and sell more. Laws should be written that get rid of the wasteful stuff we all consume and then toss aside only to replace it with new stuff we will later toss aside. It will be better for us in the long run and then maybe our leaders can say they actually made a difference to humanity. I don’t even want to bring up renewable energy because I worry it will be used to power machines to produce more crap we will throw away.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish this column so it can be printed. Ugh.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.