The Things We Throw Away
May 19, 2007 7:02 AM   Subscribe

Excellent 8,000 word essay on waste disposal in the endlessly superlative LRB. Andrew O'Hagen goes bin-raiding with Freegans, talks up Zero Waste, rides with the (contraversial) Harrow binmen, meets the Community Recycling Network, tramps over the Calvert Landfill Site and pays a visit to the London Waste EcoPark Recycling and Energy Centre aka the Edmonton Incinerator. Doesn’t meet any mafia though. 8,000 words and none wasted.
posted by criticalbill (10 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not including footnotes it is 8274 words. Just saying.
posted by stbalbach at 7:44 AM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Skimmed it earlier then read the Jerry Fodor bit on consciousness instead :p
posted by Abiezer at 7:52 AM on May 19, 2007

Interesting line in an ad I saw a few weeks ago: Don't throw it away. There is no away.
posted by Zinger at 8:34 AM on May 19, 2007

Funnily enough I skimmed the first paragraph of the Jerry Fodor and then lost consciousness...
posted by criticalbill at 8:37 AM on May 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had never heard of Freegans before. It sounds like they are at the top of the self-righteousness food chain; I can't imagine being much more hard core than rooting around in dumpsters in order to never buy anything. Then again I guess you could say that perhaps billions of people on this planet subsist mainly on things they grow or produce themselves, so perhaps it's not all that sanctimonious.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:11 AM on May 19, 2007

Then again I guess you could say that perhaps billions of people on this planet subsist mainly on things they grow or produce themselves, so perhaps it's not all that sanctimonious.

not only that, millions of people, often children, on this planet subsist mainly on things they scavenge from rubbish dumps
posted by criticalbill at 9:20 AM on May 19, 2007

Interesting line in an ad I saw a few weeks ago: Don't throw it away. There is no away.
posted by Zinger at 11:34 AM on May 19

It's also in the article...
"We used to stub a cigarette out in an ashtray and never think of it again. Now we think, where will the stub end up, the ash and the foam and the paper? We grew up imagining that rubbish was taken away, only to find there is no such place as ‘away’. The by-products of our desires are hidden in the earth or burned to make a toxic canopy over our heads: we are aware of that now, and that awareness has grown to feed a spirit of personal regeneration. At some level we recycle not to save the planet, but to free the part of ourselves that is enslaved to the world’s goods and the body’s functions."
posted by acro at 11:02 AM on May 19, 2007

IANAF, but I actually think this is brilliant, brave, and not least of all, an inevitable evolutionary product of our faceless corporate retail economy. Following regulations to the letter means tons of waste is produced whether the food has gone bad or not. I'm glad the regulations are in place, and I'm equally glad that the food gets eaten by those who still want or need it.

In fact, more self-righteous than the Freegans are the businesses that make sure everything they throw out is ruined so that no one gets any use out of it. Department stores have their employees break and shred all cast-off merchandise so that it can't be retrieved from dumpsters, and some places refuse to sell damaged goods at clearance prices, afraid people will start damaging things on purpose just to get a discount. My sister worked at Pier One and was totally weirded out by having to go out behind the store and smash stuff at the end of her shift. And for all Urban Outfitter's bohemian faux-DIY-ness, they make sure that every scrap of their damaged goods are destroyed or thrown out, not even allowing employees to salvage any scraps like beads or whatnot that could be useful in actual DIY projects. I used to sneak little bits and scraps like that out of there during my (mercifully brief) stint there, and if I had been caught, it would have been reported as theft and I would have been fired.

All waste is an opportunity. Denying people scraps to feast on at the cost of contributing to our trash problem is the real cold shoulder of consumerism.
posted by hermitosis at 11:09 AM on May 19, 2007

An eloquent tome on the subject.
posted by Tube at 11:42 AM on May 19, 2007

I'm one of the lucky souls with three bins and bi-weekly collections.

The brown bin, for food waste and cardboard that goes to be composted, collected weekly. Fine, except when some tosser of a passer-by throws away their takeaway or beercan into the bin, and then the binmen refuse to take it, so we have to fish it out ourselves. Nice. Fortunately, we use biodegradable cornstarch bags to wrap the rotting food waste at our own expense, so it keeps the flies and smell down.

The small green recyling bin, collected fortnightly, takes tins, plastic drinks bottles and paper, but not glass, polystyrene, yoghurt pots, margarine tubs, plastic bags, or those thin plastic trays everything seems to be sold in these days (the other day, every single piece of fruit in the supermarket was shrinkwrapped to small trays)

The blue bin takes everything else, collected fortnightly. We're recycling everything they'll take, we even take the glass bottles and batteries ourselves to the centre 10 miles away that will take that; but we're still putting about 70% of our total rubbish in the blue bin. This is a problem, as the blue bin used to be a weekly collection, but we're not putting 50% of the rubbish in it that we used to. It *just* fits our bi-weekly usual rubbish, but heaven forbid we're doing anything that generates extra packaging waste; we have to make extra trips to the 10-mile away centre to throw away anything extra, including wood and metal.

The young family opposite us don't even come close to being able to fit everything that doesn't recycle in the blue bin, especially with nappies, so they just end up driving every few weeks down to the tip with a van load. Gonna be real fun as the summer kicks in, given there's a railway line with a bunch of rats living by it nearby.

The biggest problem is bulky plastic non-recyclable waste, and supermarket plastic bags; tho we've already started reusing large reinforced ones every week. If the government could force supermarkets to stop using insane amounts of styrofoam, shrinkwrap and plastic trays, they'd have a much bigger impact than bullying householders.

Instead, they're going to start billing householders by the weight of the rubbish in their bins. When they do start doing that, i'm getting a set of padlocks for mine.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:26 AM on May 20, 2007

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