As someone who delights in 'shopping' at the dump or the scrap metal yard, this Herald editorial rang a big bell for me. I am continually amazed at what people throw away and have gained a perhaps questionable reputation as a 'collector' of 'things'. This trend in our gluttonous society of buying new instead of fixing or making do is, in my opinion, decadent. And the enormous amount of material, much of it not biodegradable, used to entice the consumer into buying is ridiculous. It's time to do something about it. Any ideas?
Published: Sunday, July 22, 2007
Notwithstanding its difficulties in getting organized, it is well and good that the city administration seeks ways to better collect and handle garbage. Few people disagree in principle with the idea that what can be recycled should be.
However, this is a classic case of treating the symptom, not the disease. Why is there so much to recycle in the first place?
The answer: an altogether too casual attitude held by too many people toward material things -- the so-called throwaway society.
So, while recycling is good, the larger solution rests in changing public behaviour.
Such a cure, admittedly, is beyond the mandate or powers of city hall officials. Nevertheless, as citizens have handed their municipal politicians the problem to deal with, they have every right to vent about it. If enough of them do so across the country, who knows whether public attitudes to conspicuous waste might not evolve as surely as public attitudes to smoking.
The answer to the problem of too much garbage, after all, has as much to do with producing less of it in the first place as it does with efficiently disposing of that which is unavoidable. In that great enterprise, there is a job for every citizen.
A good first step would be to reward manufacturers that avoid excess packaging; and second would be to rethink society's preference for scrapping perfectly functional things for the satisfaction of having something new -- in short, it must become cool to fix, repair and make things last.
Some packaging is inevitable, of course, in an economy based around trade and transportation. It can be a long way from farm to supermarket, from factory to the home.
But does there have to be so much? Walk through any hardware store and one will find hundreds of items bubble-wrapped, that once were sold from bins. Furthermore, why does an electrical product the size of a wristwatch need to be displayed in a box that would hold a football?
As such comfortable padding goes beyond what's needed to ensure the product's safe arrival, could it be a crude attempt to persuade the customer he is getting his money's worth?
In any case, all that polystyrene and cardboard goes straight to the dump, right after the package is opened, to be followed in due course by the product itself -- not necessarily because it is beyond repair, but because the owner has lost interest in it.
Not every car that goes to the scrapyard is a wreck; some are just worth more as parts. Not every home renovation begins with a derelict property; more typically, the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars is driven by nothing more urgent than a restless desire for change.
However pleasing the results, the consequence is that cupboards and appliances go from daily use to the dump in one swift movement, there to join the cornucopia of everything that a spectacularly endowed society can't dispose of in a garage sale.
It is the zeitgeist of the times. It is the acceptable practice of a people who know an abundance hitherto beyond the common man's experience, who largely accept the moral imperative to recycle their waste, but who have shown little ability or will to reduce it.
If the pressure on landfills is to be reduced, it will take a paradigm shift among all of us. But change will only happen when consumers demand it.
When consumers do demand less packaging, manufacturers will be only too happy to oblige. (The savings go straight to the bottom line).
But first they have to hear the message -- for society, less is more.
Society must send it, and society is us.
© The Calgary Herald 2007