Thursday, July 31, 2008

Digging through the trash

I was out exploring with my Dad today, and he took me to one of his favorite spots: an old trash dump! He's quite the treasure hunter!

It was amazing looking at what had been chucked. We weren't sure about the exact age of the site, but we're guessing it was not used after the 1950s, and we really have no idea when it started being used.

The most common items there were bottles, in every shape, size, and color. There were also a lot of pieces of broken dishes, a lot of shoe parts, many rusting out metal pots, buckets, cans, and even an old Model T Ford chassis, with the license plate still attached. Things were still recognizable, but were definitely well on their way to decay and decomposition. Nothing was bagged up. I guess garbage bags weren't invented back then.

I was thinking about all the plastic in our lives, and what one of our trash dumps might look like in a hundred years. I fear that it won't be evident whether our trash was left a year earlier or a century earlier. I worry that nothing in our landfills will be slowly returning back into the earth, but will be sitting there perfectly preserved as if in an Egyptian tomb.

It reminded me all over again just why it's so important to be cognizant of what materials the products I buy are made from. Sure it's great if I can recycle a plastic milk bottle when I'm done with it, but if a glass version is available, wouldn't I rather have that? Serving utensils in my kitchen will eventually break. When this happens, don't I want to worry about how to dispose of a piece of wood rather than plastic, even if that plastic has another use before it's finally thrown away? I know I'm not the first one to think about this issue, but sometimes we need our own experiences to make things hit home for us. Looking at a pile of somebody's relatively sustainable garbage made me realize that although I've cut my trash output drastically, what trash I do create isn't going anywhere anytime soon. That's not the kind of legacy I'm hoping to leave.


organicneedle said...

I switched a lot of things to glass too...but then read all this stuff about how the glass is so much heavier that it takes a ton more gas to ship it. Now I am just trying to eliminate unnecessary products one by one.

Lewru said...

What a vivid image - a trash dump preserved as a pristine tomb. Ugh. Our collective insatiable consumerism and greed sure won't reflect a beautiful culture for finders of that tomb ... I wonder how or what those of us who want to leave no footprint can (ironically) leave for future generations to show we wanted something different?

Green Bean said...

That's pretty amazing to dig through an old garbage dump like that. I recently finished reading Garbage Land. You raise an interesting point in that we should look to stuff that will degrade more easily etc when it eventually has to be thrown out. Wood doesn't have all those nasty toxins associated with it like plastic - plus you can often get it from a sustainable source if you look hard enough.

However, just because something is biodegradable doesn't mean it will EVER degrade in a landfill. Royte (the author of Garbage Land) stated that a Granny Smith apple can degrade in 2 weeks or a 1000 years depending on the landfill its put in. Many of our landfills are sealed so tight now - to keep toxins from leaching into the water supply - that nothing every really degrades. Then there's the problem with glass. I don't remember exactly but I think it is somewhat difficult to recycle. Much glass that is set out for recycling breaks before it makes it to the final destination and therefore is just tossed anyway. I've been trying to reuse rather than recycle the glass jars I have. Alot of them can be used for storing food and some of the smaller, thicker ones for canning jam and such.

I kind of feel like I'm talking to the next Elizabeth Royte. When can we expect a garbage book out from you? ;-)

Bugs and Brooms said...

Just reading the comments and it just makes me wonder if there is a right answer. I struggle with this ALL the time and try to make purchasing decisions that are more sustainable but there seems to be controversy around every possible option. I guess we are all on a path of trial and error and we just have to do what we think or know to be best for the environment at that point in time.

Debbie said...

Having walked through that same 'dump' with your dad, I have to be honest and say that I often get nostalgic as we walk through and we find the old enamel cookware- just like my grammie used 'way back when' and I try to imagine who rode in the old Model T. I am also amazed by the number of whole bottles that he has brought home -in a variety of beautiful colors -and why the glass hasn't broken over the years surprises me since they have been buried, walked on and possibly driven over. I am not sure if the quality of glass today is the same as that of yesterday. Having said all this...I totally agree that our trash/waste tells a story about us and there might not be a happy ending if we don't make an honest effort to change.

Verde said...

Great post. Those old dumps are so interesting, and yes how different and disgusting ours will be. Certainy now some small contained artifact.

Joyce said...

When I read this, all I could think was, why hasn't someone gone out there and retrieved all that scrap? I'll bet there is a lot of metal out there that could be recycled. The glass could, too. I wonder why no one's done it?

Debbie said...

Hi Joyce - Rest assured that Melissa's dad is bringing many of the treasures out of there - right into our home. He is a true 'junk' collector. We have rows and rows of bottles from this particular dump and some of the old license plates are hanging on the wall in our playroom. I know that he is now calculating how he can get the very old, very rusty Model T remains up the hill and into my Subaru - great. Once he is done picking through I will make sure he contacts someone to look into recycling the leftovers. We should start a museum of stuff.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of these posters and readers would be willing to give up the creature comforts they enjoy everyday if they truly knew the environmental impacts their actions have.

Where DO you draw the line?

Does everyone want to go back to the drawing board and re-build our society to where it is today by only using non-eco destructive methods?

Yes our disregard for the consequences of our actions have brought us to where we are today (global warming, pollution, rampant cases of cancer, etc.) But on the same token that same disregard has allowed the human race to grow by leaps and bounds. Incredible upgrades in our standard of living, increased life expectancy, the ability to communicate on not only a global, but universal basis(Mars rover), Medical advances, etc etc...,have been made by our bastardization fo the Planet. To advance at the rate we have advanced as a global society it would have been impossible to avoid harming our environment. The sheer scale of economies in production were not possible through any other means,during those times.

On the same token I could not agree with you more about the neccesity of living sustainably. I suppose the answer, however, does not lie in criticizing our actions, but instead it lies in seeing where, and how we can improve this incredible system we have created, where we can afford to remove certain harmful ingredients and substitute a more eco-friendly alternative.

Also I would be curious to see how much your readers would truly be willing to give up? The computers they use all contain heavy metals, which when discarded will most likely end up in a third world country polluting their lands, the homes they live in are full of components which have negative impacts on the environment, those are just a few examples. When do they draw the line? How much are they really willing to sacrfice, everyone seems to preach an incredible resolve to reduce their footprint, but how far would they go?

CindyW said...

You have a cool dad. I don't know a single dad whose hobby include dump hop :)

dave said...

I love your blog! It must have been an interesting day at that old dump. We have one of those near where I live. It does make you consider the state of our current landfills. I enjoyed your posts on "These come from trees"

I wanted to show you what my family and I have just started doing to raise awareness and more importantly give people a visual reminder of their impact on their environment. I would love to hear your comments.
The Story
For more information, Contact:
For Immediate Release David E. Emmons Vermont Nature Creations
(August 7th, 2008) Phone: 802- 645-0451
Photo Attached
Big Green Foot Sightings All Across Vermont and Surrounding States
Vermont Home Schooling Family Owns Up and Takes Responsibility!

A family in Wells, Vermont is leaving green footprints across the region, and expects to soon see their Green footprints on cars across the country.

What started out as a school project to raise environmental awareness has turned into a business for the Emmons family, who created the "Greenfoot" car magnet.

The green magnet in the shape of a footprint, which has the phrase "Keep it Green" across the top, is meant to remind people of their carbon footprint and encourage everyone to live a "green" life.

David Emmons, his wife Janet, and their three children, Maxson, 19, Katie, 13, and Abbie, 11, are using this project to spread the message of the importance of living “Green”.

"It started out as a science lesson for the two home-schooled girls last July and over time turned into a lesson on responsibility, community and working together to make a change," David Emmons said.

"We were working on how we impact our environment," Janet Emmons said, "and we started seeing how if we each just change a little bit then we could have a noticeable impact on the world."

As a school project that applied hands-on practical application, the girls were asked to think of a way to raise awareness on the impact an individuals lifestyle can have on the environment and to let people know how easy it can be to reduce a person's carbon footprint. After considering billboards and other ideas, the family decided to work together on creating car magnets. "We all figured it would be something you could see all the time," Janet Emmons said.

The family went right to work. “Our daily life became all about artwork, trademarks, copyrights, packaging, displays, and more artwork, we each had a part to play in this creative process,” David said.

“We determined from the start that we would have everything made locally so that the children would see first hand the positive impact you can have on our own community,” their mother said. With the help of a local print shop to print the package the magnet is sold with and a Hubbardton blacksmith to make displays out of recycled products, the children were able to watch every step of the process.

"They've seen this from the idea and sketch on a piece of paper right down to the finished thing," their father said.

Through the process the family Incorporated school and life lessons in art, marketing, advertising and much more, but what the family learned most was the importance of living green and the impact individuals can have on the world.

"I learned that by doing little things in your daily life, little things like recycling and turning off lights when you leave a room, can really help," Katie said. “I’ve always tried to recycle … but now I really think about things like ‘I should probably turn this off,’” she said. “I’m definitely more aware of it now.”

Maxson said one thing he learned was the effect anyone, including families in small-town Vermont, can have on their world. “It’s been exciting to watch this whole thing take off,” he added.

The lessons learned were exactly what their mother said she had hoped for at the beginning of the project.
”The main thing I wanted them to learn is that they can make a difference. So many times people feel powerless in the world and I think they learned that everybody doing a little can affect the world,” she said.

Since hitting store shelves in June, the “Greenfoot” magnets’ popularity is growing. The family routinely spots the magnets as they travel around Vermont, David Emmons said. Although he said it is exciting to see magnets on what he calls “vehicles of awareness,” the family sees this as the beginning wave of people committing to a lifestyle of living “green”. “Our dream is to raise awareness all across the country,” their father said.

To help make this dream come true, the family has constructed a Web site at The site allows people to share what they are doing to live a “greener” life, get tips on what they can do to help and learn more about the project. You can buy your Greenfoot magnet on the site and store-owners will find information on how to order them for their stores.

Crafty Green Poet said...

very good post, I think its useful to take a very close look at what we use and eliminate as much of it as we can and make sure the rest is as sustainable as possible. Which somwetimes is more difficult than it shoud be because the manufacturing and retail industries are largely slower than green consumers