Saturday, September 26, 2009

More Thoughts on Trash

Lately I have been blogging about issues much closer to my scholarship rather than generalities and particularities of being a graduate student. As such, my posts have gotten longer, and my commentors seem to be scarce. If you're still reading and you want to weigh in on stuff you would like to see around here, then please feel free to visit the comment section and let me know. Thanks!

Like many of my comments, this post comes from a desire to do what I can to enact solutions in my own life rather than to extend the commentary to a point of national policy. But the relevant NY Times article sparking these thoughts articulates some of the challenges with current waste "disposal" systems in Europe. I put "disposal" in quotes because as far as I can see, you can actually never really get rid of something, you can only relocate it.

The more I learn about environmental practices, the more I see habits of "out of sight, out of mind" manifest in a way that particularly troubles me. With an increasingly connected world and increasing awareness of exceptionally poor people scraping by a living salvaging garbage, we have developed a tendency of unloading our junk on the developing (global South, third) world without consideration. The life cycle of consumer electronics carries an unreal level of disturbance in my mind. As an engineer, I cannot stand idly by while people practice disposal of consumer electronics practice by open-pit incineration. I freak out when people burn Subway cups in campfires for crying out loud because I know the toxicity of the emitted chemicals. As a kid growing up, I learned the practices of minimal impact camping and encountered national parks workers who gathered considerable litter out of leave no trace sites. For the unaware, tinfoil does not burn. I'm just saying.

I read about the cycle of electronics, and I then investigate my own practice. Do I acquire every latest and greatest gadget? How many things do I have that have to be plugged in? How do my electronics experience their end of life? Generally speaking, I try to start with absolute consumption reduction. I still have (and use I might add) the TI-85 calculator I purchased in 7th grade. When I receive something that replaces something still operable, I donate my still operable device to organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army. The computers I have owned have generally been gifted to friends. But it still bothers me that I struggle to think about what else I can do to be a part of the solution.

I struggle to understand why we live in a society that values absolutely trendy consumer electronics. I have never caught the gadget bug. But if we value absolutely trendy consumer electronics, then why do we not have greater salvage of existing materials? Must we design so everything is "disposal" or in the words of humane societies, in need of a forever home? Can we not do better?

And so I am irritated because I see widespread consequences of merely relocating our trash to communities too poor to have the political connectedness to cry out "NOT IN MY BACKYARD!" And I am left wondering what I can do to encourage people to design things that really can go from cradle to cradle.

1 comment:

headintotheheavens said...

That last paragraph was beautiful...