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Moving Weekend: So Much Trash

August 29, 2009

Well, it’s that time of the year again. The last weekend of August and many of us are packing up belongings, renting UHauls and moving to new apartments, new cities, new homes. Thankfully, I re-signed my lease for another year so I can breathe a sigh of relief. But as I watch so many people going through the process, I have to wonder, how can we possibly produce so much waste?

Moving can be exhausting and stressful, but can also be a good thing. It gives us a chance to go through stuff and look at what we really need versus what we’ve just pushed to the back of the closet. Do I really need these old magazines? Clothes that are too small but that you think someday maybe you’ll fit into again? Re-organizing and getting rid of things can be freeing and can create peace of mind. But where is all of that stuff actually going?

In my neighborhood, trash is put out on the sidewalk and on certain days, trash collectors come and pick most of it up. Well, that’s turned into an excuse for anything and everything to go curbside, especially on moving weekend. Yesterday I walked by a computer just sitting in a pile of junk under a tree. I just want to leave a note for whoever dumped their computer saying, “have you heard about Guiyu, China?” The city that is virtually covered in e-waste from affluent countries like our own exporting old electronics?

E-waste in Guiyu, china courtesy of http://www.greenpeace.org/international/photosvideos/photos/guiyu-ewaste

E-waste in Guiyu, China (© Greenpeace / Natalie Behring-Chisholm)

And it’s not only computers. I think about 60% of the trash I see strewn about the sidewalks is recyclable. I can’t even count the number of times I see glass bottles or aluminum cans tied up in plastic trash bags. Or cardboard from cereal boxes or take-out pizza.

Truth is, that waste isn’t going away just because you put it outside on the sidewalk  in the evening and it’s gone in the morning. It’s going to a landfill somewhere that it will sit for years, sometimes even hundreds of years. Or worse, it could be going to the less wealthy countries where people will be poisoned by toxins and chemicals released from breaking down our waste.

Today I saw two people put a perfectly good sofa in the dumpster in my parking lot. Something that cost hundreds of dollars new was just tossed away. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

It becomes particularly clear to me on this weekend every year, just how much of a consumer culture we really live in. We are taught to buy and throw away. We change apartments every year, and with that, buy new furniture, new electronics and new clothes. The cycle is dangerous, and it will create an intolerable environment. We need to change the way we design things. The way products are made. They need to be harmless not only to human health, but to animals and to the environment.

And it’s not only re-designing products, but re-thinking how we dispose of them. That sofa could have been taken to Goodwill down the street and donated so another family could use it. That computer should have been taken to an electronic recycling center or donated to a school if it still worked. Those bottles could have been recycled into new containers. Is it laziness? It is thoughtlessness? Ignorance? Whatever the cause, there are ways to reduce the amount of waste produced. Nobody wants a landfill in their backyard, but that is in essence, what we are creating.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/

So I guess what I want to say is that if you’re moving this year, do your part. Be responsible.

Recycle. Use craigslist.com, freecycle.org, swaptree.com and other websites that allow the buying and selling of goods so that they may be averted from the waste stream. Donate. Repurpose. Let’s clean up our sidewalks and our home and make the world a little less wasteful.

image courtesy of http://www.greenpeace.org/international/photosvideos/photos/guiyu-ewaste

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