Monday, October 19, 2009


I thought this article in yesterday's Times was modestly provocative. The problem and its solution are not, I think, clearly identified in the article.

Recycling Goes From Less Waste to Zero Waste [...]Though born of idealism, the zero-waste philosophy is now propelled by sobering realities, like the growing difficulty of securing permits for new landfills and an awareness that organic decay in landfills releases methane that helps warm the earth’s atmosphere. [...]Americans are still the undisputed champions of trash, dumping 4.6 pounds per person per day, according to the E.P.A.’s most recent figures. More than half of that ends up in landfills or is incinerated.
Better recycling is important, but it seems like a Chamber of Commerce response to the problem--it's inoffensive and it leaves us feeling like, by gosh, I've done something good for the "environment".

For most problems, however, the solution to a given problem is to do less of whatever is causing the problem. If my problem is that I drink too much gin, the answer is not "take up smoking." The answer is, stop drinking so much gin. (It's not always so easy. A problem like "I'm stuck in a loveless marriage" involves solutions of a different sort.)

The answer to the problem if waste is not recycling because recycling didn't get us into the problem. Succinctly put, we buy too much crap. (Why we buy too much crap is another interesting question, but not apropos here.) Moreover, most of that crap is made of nasty plastic, and it's manufactured overseas. I never see the god awful mess (environmental and social) created by the manufacturing of my crap. When we tire after a few minutes playing with our new plastic piece of crap, we toss it into the waste bin, which every Thursday is conveniently picked up and moved somewhere I cannot see it, along with everyone else's crap.

The solution, then, is not "recycle better" (though that is part of a possible solution). The solution is, buy less crap.

............. Let me add that there's another solution to certain problems: Doing the opposite of what causes the problem can sometimes solve it. Sloth is undone by industry. So, not only should we buy less crap, but we should seek (in Wendell Berry's formulation) to become producing households, not just consuming ones. In our household, aside from producing a modest amount of the food we eat, we produce children, and take sole responsibility for their education. We produce much of our own entertainment (friends, music and reading) and try to ignore most of the mass-produced kind (no television). Finally, I guess, I produce most of the animal flesh that we consume...

These are modest things, and I am humbly aware of how much more I could do. But they are a start to the solution.


Watch Me Eat said...

It's actually about double that number for florida residents. Has to do with all the hurricane waste that we have to deal with.

Leon said...

Interesting. After reading this post we calculated our garbage output and came up with about a pound per day per person - yay! Of course, we're "cheating" - food scraps go to chickens or composter, paper is shredded to make bedding for the sheep, wood is chipped, catalogs and big boxes go to the burn pile, etc. And yes, no hurricanes so far this year.

Now we just need to take care of our electric consumption, which is about twice the national average ...

Steven Hunt said...

Being aware, and making changes--however small and gradual--is part of the solution.

Passive consumerism is a marked failure on every level.

This week we received the oyster and shiitake spores, and we are beginning our experiments with these species. Also, I have noted a couple of types of native mushroom that might be edible, and I will be investigating what has been written on Florida mycology.

Cultivating edible mushrooms doesn't look that difficult--but engaging this with permaculture principles will require a higher level of practice, for sure.

Steven Hunt said...

Just checked out your fishing blog. Very cool.

This must be a very enjoyable and nutritious hobby.

I grew up close to New Orleans, during a time when the shrimp and oysters were thriving.