Wipe out Waste. This snappy slogan greeted me as I entered one of the county landfills. The bed of our farm truck was filled with trash that had been dumped on the roadside by our house. This trash consisted of a fiberglass shower stall and a wooden bed frame. Both were mangled and broken into a bunch of pieces. The shower stall had been part of our viewscape for some months and I’d been waiting to haul it to the dump until I was pretty sure that any serpents who had been calling it home were hibernating elsewhere. I hate serpents. The bed frame was a holiday addition to the roadside trash.
I’ve learned a couple of things from years of picking up roadside trash at our farm. First, trash begets trash. When passersby who don’t want to use their own trash bins or who loathe paying the fee to discard at the landfill see trash along the road, it’s tacit permission to add to the litter. Second, picking up trash is risky business. Honking, accelerating, and swerving seem to be a sport for many motorists. Thankfully only a few are brazen enough to toss their trash as they speed by- implying “Just making it worth your while.”
The landfill was hopping. Cars and trucks were queued while drivers paid their fees and were directed to the correct dumping zone. I’m sure she didn’t care, but I made certain the attendant knew that my trash wasn’t really mine, but compliments of unlawful passersby. She was unimpressed with my good citizenship and with a bored voice, simply directed me to Zone B. I had to wait my turn to get a spot close enough to the mountain of trash to be able to heave mine out of the truck with hopes of it landing squarely on the pile. I planned to dump in a neat and orderly way. I needn’t have worried. As soon as there was a break in the action, an enormous bulldozer scraped up the expanded margins of trash, making the mountain even taller.
As sad as this picture is, the dump was even sadder in person. The waste of material goods is obvious. But wastefulness is much bigger. It encompasses time, effort and resources- natural and monetary. The sight of all the squandering that this landfill represents was astounding. And this is just one of literally thousands of licensed landfills in the US. Which makes one wonder- why do we have so much stuff? What has spawned this culture of consumption? Is it keeping up with the Joneses, who were at the landfill in droves; class warfare- rich v. poor, tasteful v. tacky; or endorphin rush from excitedly buying something new when the old version was just fine and maybe none would have been even better?
With the proliferation of books and blogs on de-cluttering, organizing and simplifying, our preoccupations with getting rid of too much stuff has twisted our sanity. Being able to waste confers wealth. Being able to consume conspicuously confers status. We’re missing out on the opportunity to de-clutter and dump if we don’t have enough stuff.
I am on the path of learning that is enough is often enough, that newer doesn’t necessarily mean improved, and bigger isn’t always better. I write about it as a way to sort my thoughts and to be accountable, if only to myself. I do want to wipe out waste. But not by visiting the landfill or the donation box. These are just temporary way stations for trash- a relocation service. To really wipe out waste, we have to quit being wasteful.