Visualize, in your best meditative trance, your home filled with all the commodities you consume everyday, as if those convenient collections euphemized as “landfills” did not exist. And not just the products themselves, but also the packaging that once so lovingly enveloped them, as well as the emissions, probably toxic, that were created in their making and transport. Martha Stewart would not approve of such a trashy mess in the living room, but go ahead, visualize it anyway, it’s okay.
Increasingly, I imagine what my new decor would look like (not to mention, smell like), and also what I could find in the homes of my fellow overconsuming Americans. I think of this as I wait at the bus stop, smelling the endless parade of SUVs race by, and picture a room choked with carbon monoxide. I think of this when I’m in line at the coffeeshop, watching disposable cup after disposable cup laid to rest in the trash can and wonder if they would be tossed there if their brief owners had to treaure them forever on the mantle. I think about this even when — blasphemy! — I see Environmental Studies majors sipping the organic bilbo-ginkgo-ginsing-tangerine juice from its small, individual plastic container. (Yes, I know these are recyclable, but didn’t “reduce” and “reuse” come first?). And I think about this when I do these things too.
Surprise! All this shit is kept in our home, though it is now far far away, safe in the landfill, and is no longer cluttering our immediate space. We are all litterbugs on a massive scale, regardless of organized garbage collection that makes us feel socially-responsible because we didn’t throw our trash in the backyard creek.
Consider before consuming. It’s time to clean house.
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The context? I wrote this for a “Rant and Rave” assignment just over ten years ago(!) in my “Environmental Action Through Writing” class at UC Santa Cruz. Resource use and environmental ethics were obviously what I was studying at the time, but the a-ha moment that spawned this mellow diatribe was while in line for the amazing chai at Felton’s White Raven Coffee and Tea, just watching the trash can fill with single-use paper coffee cups. It was a five-second observation that not only transformed my worldview but just about every choice made from then on.
The context today? Frustration and a probably naive disbelief: being called a hoarder for washing and reusing plastic bags and containers; watching a good, smart friend fling gum out the car window with a, “What? I do it all the time!” response, or express confusion that I’ve used the same razor with refillable cartridges for years, or wonder why I don’t think tiny plastic bottles of water from thousands of miles away are a good idea even if 100 percent of the profits go to poor communities; trying not to laugh when a self-described “very aware” guy from Marin has a huge truck littered with disposable Peet’s Coffee cups and a cupboard full of reusable to-go mugs (just goes to show that doing a ton a the best acid out there doesn’t necessarily mean you’re that tuned in….).
If anyone has a cave they can offer me for at least a vay-cay, if not permanent residence, I always make my rent on time. In the meantime, check out this 2007 article from the San Francisco Chronicle about a guy who did indeed keep all his garbage in his living room for a year to make a point about our trashy consumption habits, and keep the faith through old Nirvana: this video’s over two years before Nevermind, Dave Grohl, and “the year punk broke” (note: they were a brief foursome!):
And hey, thanks everybody for comin’, it’s been nice.