I think our future holds a problem even more pressing than climate change—the burgeoning issue of waste disposal.
Since the invention of Convenience, disposable everything has become commonplace and it’s beginning to catch up with us. Once upon a time, milk was delivered to the house and poured straight into your own milk jug. Store bought books and clothes were wrapped in cloth or newspaper to be carried home. Food was bought from markets and put directly into your basket or wooden box, sans plastic wrapping.
It worked. It may not have been the most luxurious way of living, but it worked. But someone decided that it wasn’t good enough for us, and the Goddess Disposability was born.
At first there was just plastic in all shapes and forms with some glass, cardboard and aluminium thrown in for good measure. But then we stepped it up a notch. Everything from food cans to aeroplanes couldn’t be manufactured without at least one ingredient that was toxic, immutable or just plain unfriendly. Hence, we have a problem.
The Pacific Ocean has a new floating island, purely manmade. Take a walk around your neighbourhood and count the number of empty bottles, pages of junk mail and plastic bags dancing along the gutters and skitting across intersections in the wake of passing cars.Yet we still create more problems. In Australia, digital television is on its way to ubiquity. Government regulations now mean that everyone must have a digital-compatible television set by the end of 2013. Which leaves the problem of a few million analog television sets, most containing lead, that will end up in landfill if they’re not disposed of properly. This is on top of all the computer monitors that have been abandoned, in favour of newer, faster models.
All our mobile phones, iPods, mp3 players etc. are designed to last only a few years, so we can upgrade to the newer model with the excuse that our old one doesn’t work so good anymore. My mobile phone is reaching that point now—it’s only 18 months old but suddenly I need to recharge it every second day and a single phone call can use up most of the battery juice.
And what do we do with all this stuff when we move on to the next fad? Thankfully we now have dedicated mobile phone disposal points (MobileMuster), but what about all the other electronics and batteries that end up in the garbage bin because their owners don’t know how else to get rid of them.
The next problem is going to be lightbulbs. The old incandescent bulbs have become obsolete (forbidden from sale in Australia), and we can now only buy the new “energy-saving” bulbs…all because we humans couldn’t grasp the concept of turning off a light when we weren’t using it.
Unfortunately, these new bulbs contain mercury. There are warnings about gas exposure if you accidentally break one of these bulbs in your house. But where do most people put old lightbulbs when they replace them? That’s right, in the bin.
Take a look into the crystal ball of our planet’s future…islands of floating household waste cruising the oceans…mercury, lead and arsenic leaking into water catchments from landfill sites.
Are we throwing stones inside our own glasshouse?
© Manu Saunders 2009