All The Stuff We Throw Away

Several weeks ago the apartment complex where I live suffered a breakdown of its trash pickup system.  Normally, trash is emptied from the dumpsters on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  That means, in a normal week, trash accumulates usually for only two days, and for no more than three days over a weekend.  But during this particular week, no trash was picked up for the whole week.  In total, that meant that trash wasn’t picked up for ten days, from Saturday of the week before to Monday of the week after the hiatus.  On an average week, the dumpsters get full just in the short time from one pickup to the next.  Two days can really fill a dumpster.  So when trash pickup was interrupted, a huge amount of material accumulated around the dumpsters.

That was a good time to see just what people were throwing out.  Most often, that is, during normal times, articles to be discarded are hidden within the dumpsters and not visible.  But when trash pickup was stopped (and I never did find out why), much of it became visible.  And what stuff it was.  Mattresses and box springs seemed to be the largest items that were thrown out, but furniture made an appearance too.  Chests of drawers and large chairs, especially reclining chairs, as well as a huge number of the ubiquitous white garbage bags.

Most of the large items like the mattresses and furniture didn’t appear to my eye to be re-useable, and taking them to Goodwill or some other place that has used items for sale wasn’t an option to the owners.  (I doubt that Goodwill will sell a used mattress under any circumstances, anyway.)  I can understand that these large items were totally worn out and seemed to be in need of discard instead.  Yet, even with their logical appearance in the trash pile, I still find myself wondering what happens to all these large items.  Sure, they go to the garbage dump somewhere near town, but is that all that happens?  Isn’t there some way these large items, unusable in themselves, can be recycled?  Do they simply sit in the dump, only to slowly disintegrate or sink into the ground?  Our dumps are getting to be places where, when we have something we don’t want, it just finds its way there and we conveniently forget about it.  The large garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean is a good example of the same thing.  So much of our material lifestyle in this day and age is simply discarded and forgotten.  And too much of the material we discard is either non-degradable (like plastics), or degrades very slowly.  Some of it is even toxic, like electronics, and poisonous materials can leach out of those and make their way into the ground and seep into the water table.  Our society has the mind-set that, if we don’t want it, we just throw it away and don’t even think about where it goes or what happens to it.  This isn’t a situation which can continue for much longer.  We need better recycling, especially for the items we normally don’t consider recyclable.  A civilization is known by the trash it throws out.

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