Posted Jul 30, 2011 in GREEN Berets | 0 Comments

Haunted by Trash Mummies

Ah, the blistering summer heat and its not-so-gentle reminder of life’s excesses: clothes, pounds, commitments, junk bought and never needed – all just clinging on with no real purpose, making us sweat.   Summer makes it unbearable and, if we’re lucky, pushes us to lighten our load for the journey ahead.

Burning Trash in Dharamsala, India

About a year ago, I was in India for the hottest summer of my life.   It was blistering heat, dusty air, and humidity so thick the monsoon had to be coming.  But it was weeks off.   This was a country left thirsty.  Cold bottles of water sold around every bend screamed “drink me.”  And we all did.   Throughout the country, millions of empty bottles joined piles of other garbage on train tracks, at street corners, in alleys.  It wasn’t long before I witnessed my first trash burning – outside of my window.  Toxins filled the air and turned a place with unbearable heat into an unlivable environment.  We breathed in our waste daily.

Trash pile in Manali, India

Garbage. We take it for granted.  In the States, we throw trash in a can and never see it again. Our only reminder is the occasional smell of a garbage truck, or a too-full public trash can.   This is a luxury not found in most countries.  But this luxury has costs.  Americans create more trash than almost anyone in the world, at the rate of 4.3 pounds per person per day.

While about a third (33.8%) of this waste is recycled or composted, most of the remainder ends up in a landfill.  Due to measures taken to reduce waste seepage into the surrounding environment, landfill waste decomposes at a very slow rate.  Your ex’s love letter that you never wanted to see again?  It’s probably in a pit somewhere and legible – and could be for decades.  The baby diapers, failing report cards, credit card receipts, even old bananas and food stuffs – still around.   It’s trash mummification.

Landfills are bad for the environment.  The plastic or clay liners at the bottom of the pit meant to protect groundwater, while prohibiting decomposition, often fail.  Leachate seeps out.  Food and other items that do decompose, do so slowly and largely without oxygen.  This produces hazardous levels of methane gas.  As landfills fill up and close, land is cleared for new sites.   Increased population and tougher materials found in modern goods just exacerbate the problem.   New technology in waste management methods has made some headway (e.g. use of methane as biofuel), but many of these solutions are too expensive or cumbersome to implement on a large scale.  If you are interested, below is a good video on how a modern landfill works.

How a Landfill Works

Landfills are also bad for our collective soul.  They further an American culture of convenience and excess.  It is easier to get more cheap products than to repair or reuse what we already have.  It is faster to throw everything in the trash can than to separate out recyclables, or compost food waste.

The big problem – we are just too busy.  We do not have time to think about where products originate or where they go.   We become blind by choice.  We choose a quick fix landfill over long-term waste reduction.

This summer, let us reject the quick fix.  This begins with getting back to basics – using summer’s heat as our reminder to slow down and shed the excess.  Do we really need this new item?  How we can better dispose of or reuse this old product?  Can we solve this need without something extra?  Do we really need to buy more furniture from Ikea?

Starting with just one item makes a difference.  Fewer trash mummies in our lives means more time, energy, and room for wholesome goodness!

And, why stop at just solid waste?  Here are two of great sites on reducing waste of all kinds:

Rowdykittens.com – Social Change through Simple Living

Zenhabits.net – Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly

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