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Garbage Everywhere
June 22, 2014 4:22 PM   Subscribe


 
Previously, Poonam Bir Kasturi's Daily Dump
posted by infini at 4:25 PM on June 22


It's such a shame that so much potential compost is wasted, especially in a country with high food insecurity. Perhaps the drive to compost would become more attractive if there was a compost-for-food exchange, like a community garden CSA.

At least urban farming appears to be gaining ground. Hopefully the trend continues!
posted by Feyala at 4:47 PM on June 22


I've spent time with garbage sorters in a couple of countries and that has to be the dirtiest and most unhealthy work imaginable, especially the burning plastic mentioned in the article, and all the industrial waste that gets mixed into the stream.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:20 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


I've spent a lot of time traveling in India and it's the most striking thing about the country to Western eyes -- the piles and piles of garbage *everywhere*. As my brother in law (a native-born Indian) says: it's a compost culture, only none of their trash is compostable anymore.

Many of my travels were started or ended in Bangalore, the Indiranagar neighborhood mentioned in the article actually, and I am shocked to learn that any infrastructure for collecting garbage exists, much less was *missed* when they went on strike. I've never seen so much as a garbage can in India. A garbage truck would be a spectacle indeed.


Despite the trash disposal problem, I absolutely love India and have always viewed their trash problem as something imported from the West -- it's all Dasani plastic bottles, Doritos wrappers, etc. The article mentions dirty diapers, but seriously few people there use diapers right now, but Pampers is heavily marketing and I think things are about to change.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:58 PM on June 22 [5 favorites]


I really feel like this failed to qualify it's dumb buzzfeed headilne. It never really successfully made a link between the american garbage problem and india.

The article was basically "india has a huge problem with garbage, and america produces a ton of garbage". I went in expecting something along the lines of an expose on garbage being shipped overseas... but it doesn't even touch that.

The whole thing just strikes me as a lazy hurr durr amerikka jab, which is to me is one of the most played out tiresome internet article templates.
posted by emptythought at 7:29 PM on June 22 [17 favorites]


@emptythought. It also struck me as a bunch of navel gazing. On it's own an article about the Indian trash problem and cultural aspects would have been interesting. The American tie-in was very weak.
posted by sbutler at 7:38 PM on June 22


What he's getting at is if the garbage problem looks that bad in India where so much less garbage is produced, imagine what it would look like in the US if we could actually see it openly like they do in India.
posted by stbalbach at 7:41 PM on June 22 [8 favorites]


Wasteland (2008, Harpers) is a great article on what happens to human waste, as generated by New Yorkers anyway. Most of it ends up as fertilizer, surprisingly.
posted by stbalbach at 7:53 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]


I have a friend who went through a prolonged period of meth addiction. During that period the only job that suited both her erratic schedule and her at-the-time diminished faculties was sorting trash at a recycling plant.

She met many colorful characters there, but by far the most abased were the men with alcohol dependency who would swig from anything that looked like it might still contain some booze.

It's because of stories like hers that I fully rinse anything that goes to the recycling container, even though this means I'm effectively washing my garbage. (She counters that this is a sweet but pointless gesture as my nice, clean tins, bottles, jars and plastic jugs will be covered in filth by the time they show up for sorting. Still, though.)
posted by um at 8:14 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Rinsing containers for recycling does have one benefit: It reduces or eliminates odors, temporarily anyway, until collection. That matters if the recycling bin's kept indoors or near an entrance. (Here the bin is an open blue plastic box, not a receptacle with lid.)
posted by Jubal Kessler at 8:34 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]


by far the most abased were the men with alcohol dependency who would swig from anything that looked like it might still contain some booze

Supposedly, some garbage pickers on the dumps in India will collect any kinds of organic material (not limited to vegetable material, but also including offal, for example) and leave it lightly buried in jars for a while, until natural fermentation will turn it into alcohol.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:43 PM on June 22


imagine what it would look like in the US if we could actually see it openly like they do in India.

If it wasn't "hidden"? The whole point of trash disposal is to put it somewhere that's out of view, not in the way of daily life. If you want to see it you can go and see it, or if the landfill site that your personal trash ends up in is not open to the public for some reason, you can go see another that's just like it. Sorry America, you're not yet overcrowded and politically dysfunctional enough to have a real garbage problem.
posted by sfenders at 8:58 PM on June 22 [4 favorites]


Count me also as someone who thinks this article spectacularly fails to fulfill the headline's promise.... India's garbage problem is India's garbage problem, and doesn't tell us anything about America's garbage problem, which is entirely different.

India's garbage problem relates to health, disease, lack of basic education, and poorly-run government agencies that make America's dysfunctional politics look like a shining beacon of efficiency and fairness.

America's garbage problem relates to over-consumption, excess packaging, and insufficient recycling.
posted by modernnomad at 9:15 PM on June 22 [7 favorites]


I've never seen so much as a garbage can in India. A garbage truck would be a spectacle indeed.

I didn't see either of those, but I saw lots of people sweeping up garbage in the streets. Of course, as mentioned upthread, because the garbage is no longer compostable, it just gets swept up into piles that don't go anywhere.
posted by Sara C. at 10:28 PM on June 22


These things strike me as I move through my daily life, regarding garbage:

1) We really, really over-package things, and a lot of the time make said packages out of stuff which isn't at all reusable. (Electronics, of all things, have been impressing me recently, with elaborate but fully recyclable corrugated cardboard packaging and very little plastic or foam. The electronics themselves are among the worst items, though, toxic and largely unrecyclable.)

2) Plastic is a maddening substance, not only in-and-of itself, but because of how resistant it is to recycling. It's super-specialized and some types cannot be recycled at all. If you live away from a population center, odds are it all ends up in landfill.

3) In an effort to get us to buy more, nearly everything is made only good enough to last for the warranty period, if that. And often there is no market for a used-but-older item. The sheer waste of this is profound. It would be one thing if the item went into a magic cauldron which sorted it into elements and we used them again, but it just ends up in the dirt.

If someone ever invents that magic cauldron, jeebus, there is a fortune just lying everywhere, all over the planet.
posted by maxwelton at 10:40 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]


What he's getting at is if the garbage problem looks that bad in India where so much less garbage is produced, imagine what it would look like in the US if we could actually see it openly like they do in India.

Which as far as insight goes, is on the scale firmly in the dorm room philosopher to Jaden Smith zone.

As a statement, or a premise, it has about as much depth as star trek: into darkness.

The problems are so apples to oranges that it falls apart if you try and draw the comparison any further or deeper than the sentence you just wrote. And he turned it into 2700.

It's like writing an article about paint, and comparing painting cars to painting houses while failing to link the two in any way much stronger than "way more paint is used for one than the other, and you don't see how much goes in to painting cars because they wont let you into the factory to watch them!".

Pretty much, you're doing a poor job making your point if i get to the end and i haven't the faintest clue what it even was, other than that you wanted to pour a speciously good slab on which to put your bronze statue tendentiously saying "america sucks!".
posted by emptythought at 11:28 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]


um: During that period the only job that suited both her erratic schedule and her at-the-time diminished faculties was sorting trash at a recycling plant.

Oh there are people at the back end who sit and sort the trash? I realize this was not the point of your comment, but this is useful information. Surprising too, I thought the quantities were way too large.

I come from a place where recycling is more fine-grained at the consumer side. Back there I had containers for "hard plastic", "compost", "tinted glass", "clear glass" and several others, with specialized ones for things like batteries and light bulbs. Food packages often had instructions, like "lid sorts as hard plastic, the rest as paper".

Since I moved to the US, there is one container and it's called "Recycling". It has some guidelines printed on it and I got a brochure, but I still feel uneasy about what they want me to put in there. I thought it would help to know a bit about the methods they use for separation but didn't find any information about it online. I guess hand-sorting is the most foolproof method, but it doesn't sound like a nice job.
posted by Herr Zebrurka at 11:38 PM on June 22 [4 favorites]


Oh there are people at the back end who sit and sort the trash?

It's a little of both and of course depends on the municipality. Neat video of a single stream recycling plant, narrated by a talking aluminum can.
posted by jamaro at 12:00 AM on June 23 [5 favorites]


In our neighborhood in Delhi in the late 70s, (Lajpat Nagar), garbage would be picked up from the home by a guy who was entitled to it by caste, and his payment was that he got first pick of the garbage. It's gotta be slim pickings for whoever is picking through at the end of the line at those landfills.

My dad relates how the guy who collected from our house would comment on his clothes - 'that shirt is looking very worn, sir. Time to throw it out.'
posted by BinGregory at 12:01 AM on June 23 [10 favorites]


It's not just India, btw. People in Central America just toss trash anywhere, too. And people dig through trash dumps in Nicaragua to survive, too.
posted by empath at 12:09 AM on June 23


What he's getting at is if the garbage problem looks that bad in India where so much less garbage is produced, imagine what it would look like in the US if we could actually see it openly like they do in India.

And the building fire problem, let me tell you, the building fire problem in America is horrible, if we could only see it openly without all those firefighters hiding it by putting them out.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 12:10 AM on June 23 [7 favorites]


America's garbage problem relates to over-consumption, excess packaging, and insufficient recycling.

Which means garbage really isn't a problem for the US in a meaningful way. The article asks, "Who really has the garbage crisis? Is it India, or the United States?" Is that a serious question?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:12 AM on June 23


In America's dystopian future, the old landfills will be cracked back open and pillaged. I wonder who holds the land rights on old municipal sites.

The ruminations on the American waste stream was my favorite part of Don Delilo's Underworld.
posted by BinGregory at 12:18 AM on June 23


Yeah, it's a bad idea to describe the waste or inefficiency issue the US has as a 'garbage' problem. The landfills we have don't usually cause too many problems, and you can always push dirt over the old one and make another. The issues are more with how we produce the stuff we throw away - but if your issues are with that you might as well frame it appropriately.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:27 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


Every country has a waste accountability problem. Food that will be eaten in two minutes but that comes in a wrapper that will outlast the company that made the food ought to get a really nasty tax, at least enough to make them pay for the long-term storage of their wrapper.

Put a disposal and recycling tax on every item sold and see what happens with recycling, biodegradable packaging, and planned obsolescence. I bet the added price pressure would make them come up with a lot of cool new ways to sell their products in packages that function well and look good, but that essentially vanish within a year. And maybe you'd get durable goods that are actually durable and that are designed to be continually upgraded and eventually reluctantly recycled rather than just just dumped.
posted by pracowity at 1:24 AM on June 23 [12 favorites]


Landfill mining is the industrial end of the scavenging spectrum

'The concentration of aluminium in many landfills is higher than the concentration of aluminum in bauxite from which the metal is derived.'
posted by asok at 2:18 AM on June 23 [8 favorites]


Plastic is a maddening substance, not only in-and-of itself, but because of how resistant it is to recycling.

I used to just abstractly hate packaging. Now that I am trying to feed animals as much free shit as I can on my homestead it has become a practical and pressing aversion. Most anything will rot into the ground - wood, paper, food - so these things naturally get grouped as "the environment". That little fucking bread bag closer thingy will still be bright pink and sitting on my field next week, next spring, next forever... until I bend down, pick the thing up, and place it into that fucking plastic removal supply chain infrastructure that we've devoted all this effort to.

There really is no such thing as garbage once you have a few hungry animals - aside from the plastic that we are choking in.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:59 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


My dad relates how the guy who collected from our house would comment on his clothes - 'that shirt is looking very worn, sir. Time to throw it out.'

What a missed opportunity. He could have literally given someone the shirt off his back and gotten the chance to humblebrag about it forever after!
posted by XMLicious at 4:09 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


The future of recycling is Supertrain. http://www.merlinmann.com/roderick/ep-25-supertrain.html
(Sorry I can't make links on my phone)
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:42 AM on June 23




The very poorest people in Guatemala glean from the dump. Food gets eaten, recyclables get sold, and an awful lot of the gleaners are addicted to glue sniffing, because their lives are so lacking. I'll bet most of the recyclables in India are recovered, given that there's still a large population of extremely poor people.

My garbage goes to an incinerator that produces some electricity. So I'm extra careful to keep liquids out of the trash. We used to have to sort recycling, now it's just 1 bin. You can visit the trash plant; it's pretty interesting. Big magnets grab ferrous metal stuff. Trash has to be in bags you buy from the town, which means there's a small disincentive to creating garbage.

Aluminum is toxic to mine, and should be a priority to recycle, even scraps. Vinyl isn't recyclable, at least in my area, is toxic to make, like most plastics, and should be avoided if possible. Electronics are hard to recycle, and should be minimized. Waste creates pollution, and I'd totally support a tax on goods for end-of-life disposal. Maine had tax like that, but of course it went to the general fund, not to recycling.

I shop at thrift shops, including the Goodwill Outlet, where stuff that doesn't sell at Goodwill goes. Amazing what we throw out. There are gleaners there, too.
posted by theora55 at 6:20 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


This seems like an appropriate time and place to plug Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:37 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


What he's getting at is if the garbage problem looks that bad in India where so much less garbage is produced, imagine what it would look like in the US if we could actually see it openly like they do in India.

Perhaps so much less garbage is produce because of the pervasive poverty in India. When you cannot buy anything, it's hard to have anything that might need throwing away. Personally, I think a recycling system based on massive poverty forcing people to scavenge every scrap in horribly toxic environments is a very, very, very bad thing, and comparing the US to that is basically to say "How dare you don't have 3/4 of your entire population living in crippling impoverishment!!!"
posted by eriko at 7:51 AM on June 23


And the building fire problem, let me tell you, the building fire problem in America is horrible, if we could only see it openly without all those firefighters hiding it by putting them out.

We're not putting the fires out. We're just moving them.

The "fire" here is not just generic garbage. It's non-recyclable, non-compostable substances. We basically invented a fire that can't be put out, and in India they see that it's a problem because it's all over their streets, whereas here we seem to think it's not really a big deal because we're able to move it to someone else's backyard. We didn't used to have to do that with garbage, because it used to turn back into earth. This is a new kind of garbage that is becoming more and more of a problem with each decade, since we keep making it, and it keeps not decomposing.
posted by mdn at 10:30 AM on June 23 [3 favorites]


mdn: This is a new kind of garbage that is becoming more and more of a problem with each decade, since we keep making it, and it keeps not decomposing.

I know the idea bothers a lot of people on a near instinctual level, but I'd like to hear a reason how the current strategy for dealing with non-biodegradable wastes (bulldozing them into a hole, covering them with dirt, and forgetting about them) actually constitutes a problem. I mean, not considering the material / energy cost of making the stuff in the first place, and not counting things that usually get recycled now like metals and electronics (but still counting plastics and glass).
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:38 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


One problem with sanitary landfilling, Mitrovarr, is not the non-biodegradables, but that a very large portion (up to 65% in some estimates) of the waste IS degradable, however burying the waste stops the break-down. I think that is what mdn is driving at.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:19 PM on June 23


If you average 400 million people in the US for the next 100 years, producing one ton of garbage per capita each year (not including what gets recycled or incinerated), and you can put 10,000 tons of garbage in an acre of landfill... by my estimate that's 0.2% of the land area of the United States that needs to be devoted to garbage dumps. It's quite a lot, but nothing compared to the area taken up by roads, parking lots, strip malls, strip mines, suburban tract housing, and farming.
posted by sfenders at 2:18 PM on June 23


I'm not even sure that the volume of garbage is actually the problem. If you take a billion people living a wonderfully green life with plenty of recycling, you're still going to have a LOT of garbage to deal with.

Until India gets on top of its garbage handling problems and take this stuff away from populated areas, this is ALWAYS going to be a problem, regardless of the amount of plastic/packaging/etc that is put in the waste stream.
posted by Phreesh at 2:34 PM on June 23


this is ALWAYS going to be a problem

That's just it, it's not. If the "waste" is poop and broken ceramics and a little bit of paper and food, that does not need any special handling - it very quickly becomes the environment.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:38 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


The 10th Regiment of Foot: One problem with sanitary landfilling, Mitrovarr, is not the non-biodegradables, but that a very large portion (up to 65% in some estimates) of the waste IS degradable, however burying the waste stops the break-down.

Well, if the stuff that's being sequestered underground isn't needed by people or the environment, does it matter if it ever degrades? Organic waste is mostly made out of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, which are available in essentially unlimited quantities on Earth. Unless we're burying necessary trace elements or something, I'm not sure why it can't sit in a dump forever. Even the space may not really be a concern because you can always plow dirt over an old landfill and use it for something else.

It's not so much that I really think that making tons and tons of garbage isn't a problem somehow, it's just that I feel we need to identify the specific reasons why it's a problem and how it should be addressed. I think the issue is probably a lot more complicated than 'we need to make less trash'.
posted by Mitrovarr at 3:53 PM on June 23


by my estimate that's 0.2% of the land area of the United States that needs to be devoted to garbage dumps.

Except that it doesn't all end up in neat little dumps. There is, for example, the Great Pacific garbage patch.
posted by pracowity at 4:30 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


That's just it, it's not. If the "waste" is poop and broken ceramics and a little bit of paper and food, that does not need any special handling - it very quickly becomes the environment.

So, your argument is that we could toss all our biodegradable garbage down the street (including poop) and everything would be fine? What about dengue fever, rats, stench, malaria and other assorted pathogens?

"Special handling" isn't something that's nice to have, it's the difference between life and death for literally millions and millions of people. And that's not an exaggeration.
posted by Phreesh at 9:21 AM on June 24


Because its unseen and apparently won't be seen, if the anecdote in the article is correct, the environmental impact of the consumption driven, throway and replace, waste making society is barely realized or noticed. After all, India has a far larger problem, said the strawman.
posted by infini at 12:07 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


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