Saturday, March 10, 2007

Flypaper II

I've thought a lot about garbage in the past year.

I've always loved nature, respected the environment ... I've agonized at times over man's befouling of his home, this wonderful, beautiful earth of ours ... but you know how it is - life creeps in, and living, eating, surviving become more important than principle, which does not feed.

Lately, however, thanks to my exposure to the numerous landfills in my neighbourhood, my heart has begun to burn within me, in outrage, in horror, in wrath at what we have done and are doing to our world.

But that's too general, too vague. It sounds like the usual inarticulate cries of the pro-environmentalist lobby. Let's get practical, and I will stitch for you a pastiche of moments that have left me shaking my head at Western waste.

Moment #1
A memory from long-ago, when I was a child in a Third World country, seeing people living in and off a garbage dump, horrified at the sight of other children diving after the garbage I had just placed in a dumpster, ripping through the plastic eagerly.

Moment #2
Flypaper. Oh, how I despise plastic bags, which last and last, and will not decompose, will not disappear. I hate how they fly about, like leaves, and end up flapping in the breeze in some bare-branched tree. And I cannot abide the fact that E & I - a typical Western couple - collect dozens of them every week, despite our best efforts to avoid them.

Moment #3
Still flypaper. This is one of my favourite moments - when I picked up a balance sheet from a credit-card account. Mrs. M______, did you suppose that someone else would be looking at your balance when you threw it out? Did you realize that I saw, and could have used your credit card number? I didn't, but I could have. I was certainly poor enough to have been tempted.

[This is not so much related to wastefulness, as it relates to human stupidity and thoughtlessness in how we dispose of our waste.]

Moment #4
Still more flypaper. On the same site where I found Mrs. M______'s credit card information, I discovered multiple files from the office of a local doctor. We are talking requisition forms for various procedures, copies of referrals, copies of medical results. Did John want me to know he has herpes? I doubt it. Thinking to jolt someone - anyone - into awareness of this terrible abuse of patients' trust, I collected several forms and then contacted the doctor to let him know I had them, but he was less than appreciative at my diligence, and blamed his new secretary. I still have the forms somewhere. I decided not to throw them out.

Moment #5
Travelling with my boss to a landfill to throw out the refuse from a reno project, my boss pointed out how much the landfill had filled in two years. From well below grade to well above grade in two years. That is a lot of waste. Then came time to unload. There were so many things there in perfectly good condition, that nobody needed to throw out. Throw out? Forget the condition - half the items could have been recycled, but nobody bothered.

On one visit, we loaded the van with hardwood benches that a local church had thrown out (they were well-labelled). The boss explained how he could make money by cutting them up - we sold one for $50 before we had travelled back to the job site.

On another, I collected a wooden box - in excellent condition - which now holds my tools.

On yet another ... but you get the picture. So much waste... full windows, wood in good condition, working appliances, items made of aluminum or copper simply thrown away...


Our culture is a culture of such materialism, and of such waste. Items (cars, furniture, simple furnishings) are made to last a couple years only, in order to ensure future purchases... and yet nobody squawks. We are consuming the world's resources at a ferocious rate, and maybe that is our prerogative, given our wealth and power in this world. But do we have the right simply to throw away what we have every couple years? Is this responsible? Is this good stewardship of our resources? Is this wise?

Why haven't we, collectively, we the wealthy, become sickened and nauseated by our wastefulness? I can assure you that it nauseates those who have little, those who have none. There is a world out there that hates us for our arrogance in treating these things so recklessly, so casually, so ... so ... wastefully.

I wish I could say what needs to be said more fluently.

- V.

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