Sunday, October 14, 2012

102 Tons

Tomorrow my ENG 100 students will be discussing the introduction to Edward Humes's book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash. The numbers that Humes throws at the reader in this book are staggering. 102 tons is the figure he comes back to again and again; that is the average amount of trash that an American will produce over his / her lifetime.

The introduction artfully begins with an anecdote about a pair of hoarders who were discovered trapped in piles of their own garbage in a Chicago home in 2010. The book is not about hoarding, so at first this seems like an odd choice. Then Humes makes the connection--hoarders are not really the "freaks" we tend to think of them as. We all produce such gross piles of waste; hoarders do us the favor of making our own national vice visible.

My fiancé occasionally worries that her father is something of a hoarder. He's not--at least not in the pathological sense--but he does, like hoarders, have a hard time accepting the wastefulness of our culture. As a result, he hates to get rid of things that he think can be re-purposed in some way. His garage has a frightening amount of gadgets, loose objects, machines, machine parts, and containers--all waiting for some new mission. Maybe that mission will never come, but it does seem like such a waste to ditch things that could be useful. The accumulation of such objects should serve as a reminder to us all of how senseless it is for us to acquire what we do not need--all wrapped in packaging we also do not need.

I try to do little things to reduce my own waste, like bringing reusable bags to the grocery store and recycling what I can--we even started getting our milk in refillable glass bottles and our produce in refillable cardboard boxes. But we know that, like all Americans, our wasteful tonnage is still excessive. What can we do to change? I hope my students are up for some critical thinking on this topic tomorrow. Maybe they'll have some ideas for all of us.

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