Monday, June 6, 2011

Talkin' Trash

Trash.  It's everywhere.  The average American produces 4.5 lbs of trash a day.... adding up to over 1,600 lbs per year.  Over the weekend, my family along with Bonnie Monteleone took a "field trip" to Norfolk, VA to... well... learn.  On Friday morning we headed out bright and early to meet Kathy with TFC Recycling.  Our first stop:  Hampton/NASA Steam Plant.
The Hampton/NASA Steam Plant burns garbage to make steam for NASA's research such as testing space shuttle aerodynamics in over 60,000 hours of wind tunnel runs!  Since 1980, the plant has processed more than 2,235,257 tons of trash!!  Holy guacamole!!  While I'm honestly torn about the whole burning trash thing... I think it's pretty impressive that in the past 10 years alone they've been able to save 29.9 million gallons of fuel and natural gas by burning something that would otherwise have been buried in a landfill.  Hmm... 



Admittedly, I was overwhelmed by the amount of trash that we saw.  Ok... I was overwhelmed by the nasty stench as well.  As we stared up at the towering (and super stinky) pile of garbage, I couldn't help but think of the trash that we produce.  There's something about looking at the waste of thousands to really put everything we're doing-- Rethinking, Reducing, Refusing, Reusing/Composting and Recycling-- into perspective. 

 I am thankful that we-- as a family of 5-- produce far less trash than the national average.  In fact, looking at the weights that I've shared in the My Plastic-Free Life Show Us Your (Plastic) Trash Challenge... we produced less than a pound of trash for the whole month of April.  Sometimes it takes a nasty ass 60 foot tower of smelly garbage to make a girl realize she's doing good ;) 

Our next stop was TFC recycling, where Kathy gave us a tour of their facility where they sort all of the recyclables.  It was absolute craziness... how fast the machines work, the technology of the machines and watching the guys look for things that "don't belong" on the conveyor belts-- like plastic bags-- was so impressive.
I've always been one to wonder what the deal is with plastic bags for recycling companies.  I mean... they're accepting all these other recyclables... why in the world can't they just take the plastic bags and separate them like they do the rest of the recyclables???  Here's the simple truth:  As the recyclables are sorted through a series of conveyors... the plastic bags end up getting stuck in the rollers of the conveyors.  When the rollers are all twisted up with plastic bags... they have to shut down their entire operation to clean out the bags.  So... what does Kathy think about plastic bags??  She thinks they should be banned!  Take that ACC!  Plastic bags suck.  By the way, have you heard??  ChicoBag is being sued by three of the largest plastic bag manufacturers.  Check it out and give your support to ChicoBag
So... I, of course, had another epiphany while looking at the at all of the recyclables speeding down the conveyor belts and the blocks of recyclables baled for market.  The overwhelming amount of waste is something that we as a society need to really SERIOUSLY rethink.  I'm not saying that we all need to "give up" everything that we've become accustomed to... I'm saying we need to scale back and go back to school on the whole "Needs & Wants" lesson.

Example:

Need: Food
Want: Food packaged for convienence

In the midst of all of the trash and recyclables that we bore witness to on Friday... doubt also popped into me.  My thought:  Does what we're doing even matter??  All of this trash... all of this waste.  Is what we're doing as a family a futile effort??......
It gave me pause.  As I looked at the blocks of baled recyclables in disbelief. I stopped myself from questioning our efforts... and remembered that along with not buying things like bottled water... I have not bought something as simple as laundry detergent or fabric softener in over a year.  I remind myself that my "one" is important.  By not contributing, I am contributing something more.  We as a family are making a difference through simple everyday actions.  Ordinary regular people make the biggest differences in the world every single day.  It's not about setting out to change the world... it's about the simplicity of setting out to change our habits.  It's about making the decision to do something different... rethinking "Needs & Wants"... and most often that means understanding that the majority of what we think we "need" are just wants.  Ok... so maybe I lied.  It IS about changing the world... because when we change our habits... when we change ourselves.... we ARE changing the world.  

*YOU* are the difference.