I read an article several years ago about a community that subsisted off of a trash heap. “Trash heap” doesn’t quite cover it–this was more like a trash mountain. The people who lived near it collected clothing to resell as rags, aluminum cans, and anything else they could use to make a living. It was a sad story; I don’t remember the magazine or the name of the country because I couldn’t stand to think about it too much.
Landfills are overwhelming. The cost to the environment is probably incalculable, and the cost to the people who live near or even in all that garbage cannot be gauged. Today, I read something that inspired me to think we may be able to conquer and vanquish the landfills. Human ingenuity is boundless and if enough smart people are working to change the way we deal with waste, particularly if they find a way to profit from that waste, then maybe some good will come of it.
Today Fastcompany.com posted an article called “A New Breed of Eco-Designers Reimagines the Detritus of Our Daily Lives.” While many of the items featured in the article are too expensive for most people to use daily, (I certainly can’t afford $6.50 per 8 disposable plates-what if you were serving 50 at a party?), they do have the power to impact how we think about the way we use disposable items.
Of course, the best option is to not use disposable items: wash dishes, use refillable pens, compost your pizza boxes, and on and on. It’s nearly impossible, though, to work, raise kids, run a household, have a social life and make time to wash cloth diapers, use a rotary mower and otherwise avoid Earth-damaging shortcuts. Convenience has its price, but it’s also, well, convenient.
The items in the article are both convenient and avoid flagrant contribution to the landfills, and, most importantly, are being marketed through avenues that will reach a large population. There are few people who choose to purchase items that are bad for the planet. Instead, those decisions are driven by price and (again!) convenience.
I have a friend who always buys styrofoam disposable plates because they are cheaper than paper. She knows perfectly well that paper plates could be composted but feels she simply cannot afford to spend any extra on what is already a luxury item. The most recent scourge of the environment, plastic water bottles, are a problem because they are just so darn easy to use.
Designers are making a good start, but now the rest of us have to carry through by making a few simple changes in our habits and in what we put in our shopping carts. Then, maybe we’ll begin to see the trash mountains of the world shrinking.