I was initially reminded of this video about a week ago while I was talking with my brother and I feel it has relevance to this post. Initially released in 2010, it discusses Planned Obsolescence, the idea that things should not be built to last in order to keep the economy going. I feel this is a good place to start our “math problem”.
Now, let’s add:
And, I don’t know, multiply(?) that by:
- The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years
- And still, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation.
- In 2014, the average size of new homes built increased to an all-time high of 2,690 square feet. In 2015, the average grew another 30 square feet to 2,720.
- While our houses have gotten bigger, our families have gotten smaller. Because of these two factors, since 1973, average living space per American person has doubled.
- The growth in square footage of new homes has wiped out nearly all the efficiency gains. In other words, though energy efficiency has developed rapidly, we’ve increased our home size to the point that we’re still using almost the exact same amount of energy.
And yet the ‘hot commodities’ are usually electronics and those have become smaller and flatter. Even appliances have the option of being small.
We’ve been conditioned to buy. Buy the new thing, the latest thing, the most popular thing. You don’t want to feel left our do you? Feeling down? Some retail therapy will help you to feel better!
And most of it’s crap. We’re left with a hoarder complex in a throw away society. And we justify our purchases saying we can afford it or we could use a new one. So of course our homes are packed with stuff we don’t need. Of course there’s places piled high with trash.
(I couldn’t have planned this segue any better on purpose!) Which equals:
- The U.S. has 3,091 active landfills and over 10,000 old municipal landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, in the “good old days,” every town (and many businesses and factories) had its own dump. According to the 1997 U.S. Census, there are 39,044 general purpose local governments in the United States – 3,043 county governments and 36,001 subcounty general purpose governments (towns & townships). One suspects that there are many more old and abandoned commercial, private, and municipal dumps than the 10,000 estimated by the EPA. Zerowasteamerica.org
WHERE DOES OUR TRASH GO?
[Lower income countries to the left; Higher income to the right]
And just for good measure, most gets shipped to poorer/less “developed” countries – The world’s biggest and most dangerous dump sites – interactive 2014
Because you know, that whole out of sight-out of mind tactic works wonders. Surely if you ignore the problem it’ll go away.
Horrifying ‘river of trash’ flows through the capital of Lebanon
“Last summer, officials in Beirut, Lebanon closed their main landfill, but they forgot one important thing: they failed to provide for a replacement. Now a health crisis mounts as two million tons of trash spill into the streets, creating what people have begun to call a ‘river of trash‘ that flows through the city, spewing garbage and toxins into the once-beautiful area.”
And apparently China has been buying our trash to harvest what was usable. The United States sold $10.8 billion worth of metal and paper scrap to China in 2011. But in 2013 China introduced Operation Green Fence and Chinese ports have turned away “foreign garbage” by the hundreds upon thousands of tons (links in Chinese). “If China customs found a syringe, even if it’s just one, in a bale of plastic, it’s considered medical waste and the whole shipment would get rejected,” Peter Wang, CEO of recycling exporter America Chung Nam, said at a conference recently. – The Washington Post
And do I need to mention our waters? UNESCO.org – Facts and figures on marine pollution
But what are we supposed to do? Most of what we purchase comes in packages/containers. It’s not like we’re just gonna keep them laying around. And if something automatically comes in something reusable we only need one. What do we do with the next one we get? Sure the reusable bags are great, but what about foods and other products? We can’t exactly go shopping with our own containers and leave the packaging there. That’s not getting rid of the problem, we’re just not taking it home. Yeah, Whole Foods has the bulk oats and grains area where you can scoop out what you want, but you’re still bringing it home in a bag you’re eventually throwing away. There are some solutions attempting to rise:
- Some people just try to go shopping with their own containers –Why I’m hooked on grocery shopping with glass jars
- Packaging free & zero waste grocery stores –First Packaging-Free, Zero-Waste Grocery Store In US Coming To Austin, Texas – 2011 & Good news! Another ‘Zero Waste’ grocery store opens in France – 2015
- Incentives! (Though small) Starbucks offers $0.10 off the drink when you bring your cup. Whole Foods offers $0.10 off per bag you use.
- I heard there’s a drink company sold at Sprouts offers a discount off the next drink when you bring the bottle back.
- Kamikatsu, Japan wants to be no trash by 2020 – This Japanese town aims to produce no trash by 2020
- Hell even things like this
I’d like to think there’s more, but I can’t say for sure. And what about body products? Cleaning products? Unless you make your own stuff at home you are always getting new packages/containers/bottles/tubes.
We must assume, with trash being such a lucrative business, that the government/big companies will continue to do a lot of not much regarding this issue besides happily talking about ideas they have. Or perhaps try to tell us it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s up to us to clean up our act. They’re not going to do it for us. Vote with our dollars, because we know they will follow where the money goes like bloodhounds. Use every opportunity available to you. Take initiative and help clean up in your community. Be vocal about what you want because no one wants to start a business where they think there’s no demand. Maybe not buy that $5 shirt and buy one of better quality (and will usually last longer) for $20. Maybe buy products that have a certain percent of the proceeds going towards a cause. Maybe not buy the latest and greatest thing because it’s the latest and greatest thing. Don’t tell yourself that it’s none of your business/ it’s someone else’s problem/ there’s nothing you can do/ that’s what “they” get paid for. Because if someone else was going to take care of it they would’ve and doing something (no matter how small you think it is) is better than nothing. So, young Padawan, armed with the weapon of words and a view of the big picture, go forth and do great things.