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The WMail Newsletter Essays
Volume III - Issue #28: October 2002

"Waste Not, Want Not"

        On 25 June 2002, the Los Angeles Times printed an article with the title "Humans Consume More Than Earth Can Replace", about a report being published in the 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'. The article contained the following lines:

**      "Economic expansion has boosted demand for resources and overshot the planet's ability to regenerate them by 20%."
**      "Human demand has been outstripping nature's ability to re-supply since the early 1980s."
**      "Since 1961, human demand on resources has nearly doubled."

{{ Full text of the short article is at http://www.working-minds.com/energy.htm#overshot. Full text of the report is at http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/99/14/9266 – free membership required. Press release from Redefining Progress is at http://www.rprogress.org/media/releases/020625_pnas.html }}

        The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report to the United Nations in June 2002 that concludes "greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities are the primary cause of global warming".

{{Global Warming Report [various PDF files]: http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/publications/car/index.html =OR= Federal Global Warming website: http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/ }}

*          *          *          *

        This month's essay specifies suggested methods to reduce the waste of planetary resources, which is especially necessary in Western countries, most particularly in the U.S. of A., which consumes way more than its share.

        Long ago I made up a little personal game, which is to intercept trash on its way to our hundred-acre landfills, and recycle and-or reuse that 'trash'. I call this game 'Negative To The Landfill', in that the intention is to reduce my own consumption to the bare minimum and also to capture enough material thrown away by others that what I recover is more than my own bare minimum consumption, thus negative input to the landfill by me.
        I have indeed reduced my own consumption of resources so that, for example, I need only take out the trash every week or even two (or when any 'wet garbage' has gotten rank).
        All that I have to do to 'win' this game is to recycle more than I take to the trash.

        So under the heading of "I ain't proud", when I see a soda can or bottle in a parking lot, I actually bend over and pick it up and toss it into the trunk of my car.
        When I go for a walk, I take along a plastic bag (recycled from the supermarket) because I expect that 'homo litterbuggus' has left lots of trash that will otherwise be swept into the storm drains and into Santa Monica Bay. My action thus prevents pollution of the environment as well as recycling of litter. I may pick up a dozen cans or bottles, or one or none, but each item counts toward my game of Negative To The Landfill.
        And it really offends me that some of my neighbors don't even bother with the recycling service provided by the City. These brain-dead folk don't even turn in the soda cans & bottles for money at the market. Invariably, when I take my occasional bag of actual trash out to the big bin, there on the top will be a stack of newspapers and-or liter-size soda bottles and-or twelve-packs with the glass bottles back inside and-or cardboard cartons.
        So I grab a handful or two and bring recyclables back from the trash bin; of that I am proud.

        There are a range of simple actions that you can take, most of which only require being conscious when you are about to toss something into the trash. You too can play this game, by incorporating one or more of these practices into your ongoing daily procedures.

*          *          *          *

        The city where I live has a thorough recycling program, as does most of Los Angeles County. But Culver City accepts more types of material than does the City of L.A. or nearby Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.
•     all types of cans and jars and glass and metal
•     paper, including phone books and cardboard and corrugated boxes
•     all types of plastic
•     toxic waste – paint, cleaning products, etc. – is handled separately

PAPER: I am meticulous in what I put in the newspaper recycle stack, for example:
•     food container cardboard/paper boxes, including salt & oatmeal boxes
•     the paper envelopes that tea bags come in (I drink tea all day, this adds up!); also, the
      cardboard dividers in the bigger tea bag box are one-inch longer than a paperback and make
      nifty bookmarks
•     junk mail
•     shopping bags, tissue paper inside clothing, wrapping paper
•     the 8-1/2 by 11 cardboard from the back of the pad that I wrote this essay on
•     cardboard things inside newly bought shirts & underwear
•     backing sheets from USPS self-stick postage stamps
•     charge receipts (torn up after cross-matching to the bills)
•     boxes & cellophane wrappers from bar soap, toothpaste, pasta, etc.
•     the cellophane or wax paper that wraps stacks of Ritz or graham crackers
•     egg cartons (plastic ones go in the plastic bin)
•     coffee cups & fast-food soda cups (lids go in the plastic bin)
•     once the first, handwritten draft of this essay is keyed into my laptop, these sheets will also
      be placed on the newspaper recycle stack
•     when I did more printing on my computer (before my focus became the internet over
      novels), I would use the backs of previous printout to write new material in longhand,
      eventually putting them onto the recycle stack after using the paper twice
•     the cardboard rolls inside toilet paper and paper towels
•     fast-food containers, including the paper thing fries come in

PLASTICS: I basically let the recycle industry decide, and include anything plastic that would otherwise go in the trash:
•     the plastic things that hold six-packs together
•     containers and plastic straws and cup-tops from fast-food to go
•     medicine bottles & Styrofoam cups
•     the silly hooks that clerks don't remove from socks that are displayed by hanging
•     black frozen dinner tubs
•     the white or blue foam plates used by butchers and the produce section
•     plastic grocery bags and the plastic wrappers that the daily newspaper comes in

METAL: Since Culver City accepts all aluminum and bi-metal cans and metal jar lids, there isn't much else to add,
        but consider:
•     aluminum foil
•     the aluminum spout from boxes of salt and artificial sweetener

*          *          *          *
        A couple jobs back, when I was driving a patrol car (private), the only place to get a hot meal mid-shift was a fast-food place. I'd place my order, the counter clerk grabbed some napkins and stuffed then inside the bag, and I left. There were always way too many napkins, so I stashed them on the Kleenex box atop the refrigerator at home. That stack of napkins got to be nearly a foot high, I never bought tissues, and a year after leaving that job, I finally got down to the Kleenex box.
        America has 5% of the world's population and uses 40% of the resources. But our usage is primarily waste! We clear-cut old-growth hardwood forests so the counter clerks can stuff a half-dozen paper napkins into the bag so the unused napkins can accompany the unrecycled paper & plastic fast-food containers into the landfill. Billions of unused napkins a year.
        America is truly committed to a wasteful lifestyle.

*          *          *          *

        Once you reach Negative To The Landfill, there is still the job of maintaining that condition. And the lifelong job of getting others on the 'old band wagon': if we do not, then in just a few years, there won't BE any trees to cut down, there won't BE any petroleum to make into plastic, it will all already be in the landfills.

        Present levels of consumption cannot be maintained by a population of over 6 billion – and growing. That we now use 20% more than Nature can replace can only be addressed by 1) consuming less, and 2) recycling more of what we do consume. And 3) reducing the population.
        Continuing on Mankind's present path of over-consumption will bring so-called Civilization to a grinding halt for lack of resources.

        I wrote a screenplay treatment called "Nostalgia" in which three students at Cal Tech invent a working time machine. Two choose to visit the past – complications ensue – while one chooses to visit the future. But he goes too far forward, past his own (undefined) death, into a future where all business is conducted by use of thumbprint scanners as ID. Since he is dead, his thumbprint gets no match: he does not exist.
        So I made up the idea of the 'nameless': people who are not in the thumbprint system and thus non-existent like today's homeless hordes. So the only work that my 'chrono-naut' can find to make enough money to buy fuel to return to the present time is working in the 'trash mines': nasty, smelly, dangerous work pulling the millions of tons of waste back OUT of the landfills, because Mankind – America – has used up all the world's resources. (Since petroleum is too scarce to be used for fuel, I made up that local transportation is by pedicab – what you may know as a rick-shaw. Think about it.)

*          *          *          *
        When any of my clothing wears out, I put it in the pile for donation to the local Gospel Army. You can donate to Salvation Army, or local church, or Goodwill Industries, any such organization. They each provide jobs for people in the recycling phase and in repair and in running the stores where the better items are resold for a pittance.
        In principle, if the shirt just has a torn seam, maybe they will repair it and somebody can use it. But I even pass along socks when they develop holes, or any such worn-out item.
        Why? Because every such outfit makes side money selling rags, which are then recycled for use by industry. Excellent paper is rated by its 'rag content', which is the percentage of cotton or wool fiber included in its manufacture. I simply do not assume that the fabric item belongs in the landfill. I pass all worn-out clothing on to the Gospel Army, who then recycles what is recyclable or re-usable, or put it in the rag bin, and if they put part of my donation in the landfill, then at least the attempt to recycle was made. I let them decide. (And all these outfits can sure use the few extra bucks for the rag salvage.)

        Not all the people where I live are brain-dead. Some use a table in the laundry room to recycle all kinds of stuff, even clothing and dishes. When I see a magazine or paperback or book of interest, I read it myself (one recycle cycle), and then return it to the laundry room for another go-round or two.
        If you have no access to such a public space, then donation to an organization is just as good. If they do not resell the item, then they will sell it off for rags or paper pulp – again, for much-needed side revenue.

        You can donate books & magazines that you are finished with to the local library, to hospitals, military bases, senior centers, etc. I buy most of the paperbacks that I read for 50 cents each at the local library – that too is recycling.

        Your local senior center is a good place to donate items that can be re-used: books, magazines, perhaps clothing. Our local center has a bin for grocery coupons, so members with fixed incomes can save a little. (The L.A. Times delivers a hundred-page selection some Sundays.)

        There is a saying that if you have not physically touched some item in two years, then you don't need it. Clean out the garage or attic or basement, host yourself a yard sale maybe, then donate what is left over as above. Such a project could make you Negative To The Landfill for a whole year!

        While this hobby can be stretched too far, to the level of passion, you can earn points in the Negative To The Landfill Game by buying stuff from yard sales. Recycle is recycle. Then pass it on as above.

        The State of California has a 'net metering' law that pays owners of solar energy systems if they are connected to the power grid and produce more energy than they use: payment from the utility is at the retail rate. If any such program exists where you are, take advantage of it; if such a program does not exist where you are, get solar anyway and push your legislators for such a program.

*          *          *          *

"You are either part of the solution, or you are part of the problem."
— Eldridge Cleaver

        The game level that I am working toward now
is Negative To The Landfill for my lifetime.
I invite you to play too.

[copyright 2002 by Gary Edward Nordell, all rights reserved]

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