By Julia Hathaway, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News Story
There’s a chore most of us probably have dealt with this past week. Maybe you outsourced it to your children. Maybe you and a significant other argued over whose turn it was. But if you live in a municipality with trash collection, someone lugged those cans or plastic bags to the curb.
Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong!
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or some other seasonal observation, there is a very good chance that soon you will embark on a shopping marathon. It’s also highly likely that at some point you will stand knee deep in paper and plastic wrappings and that later you’ll have a larger-than-usual trash truck contribution.
If we give some thought to where the garbage goes after it leaves our homes, perhaps more mindfulness of this kind will help us reduce the amount we churn out this holiday season while saving us some hard-earned cash.
In “ Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash,” Edward Humes clues us in on a way that America is No. 1, but it’s no cause for celebration. We’re tops in trash production. On average, according to the book, we toss out 7.1 pounds per day per person, which can add up to 102 tons over the course of a lifetime. Even though we’re only 5 percent of the world’s population, we’re making 25 percent of its refuse.
Humes lists what we waste every year and it includes: “Enough steel to level and restore Manhattan,” “enough wood to heat 50 million homes for 20 years,” and “enough plastic film to shrink wrap Texas.”
Our disposable society is running into some not-so-great unforeseen consequences. For one thing, we’re running out of room to put the stuff. The trash that eludes landfills, though, should concern us even more. As our oceans become plastic dumps, minute organisms at the bottom put plastics and toxins they bond with into the food chain. Tuna sandwich, anyone?
Recycling is by no means a panacea. Humes shows that state-of-the-art tracking reveals the very complex and not always efficient route it can travel.
Fortunately, all is not gloom and doom. In the last chapters of “Garbology,” Humes describes some wonderful things communities are doing to address the trash problem.
So what can we all do?
This time of year, we’re in a real position to cut down on the garbage we cause and the shock we’ll experience when the credit card bills roll in.
Are all the folks on the gift list must-give-tos? Can you and your siblings, for example, draw names? Do all gifts have to be from firsthand stores? Thrift shops can have some really amazing merchandise.
If you’re rocking creativity, the scarves I knit are very much treasured. Finally, some of the best gifts can’t be put in boxes. My best Christmas gifts last year came from my daughters. One took me to a musical. The other invited me to her home for a day of crafting.
Bear in mind also that New Year’s Eve falls right after our December festivities, prompting many of us to think of resolutions. Here are three questions worth pondering:
1) Are there any habits, even seemingly small ones, you can tweak? I’ve been copying my friend Diane by carrying a container from which to drink tap water. In addition to cutting back on plastic waste, I’m saving money every week.
2) Are there creative ways of redistributing still usable goods? One day at the Orono Public Library, I heard parents discussing an elaborate hand-me-down chain for several families’ children’s clothes. But my favorite has to be the prom projects. As the season draws near, groups lay out a wide range of donated dresses and invite girls in to try on and take. Even girls who have never met are excited for each others’ finds.
3) Are there skills you can learn that will reduce the cost of your lifestyle? Even simple mending can extend the life of garments. Cooking from scratch and growing some of your ingredients can not only cut down on packaging waste, but lower food costs and be better for you.
Julia Emily Hathaway is the vice chair of the Veazie School Committee and is a proud mother of three.