Waste: The Final Frontier
We had a foreign exchange student in high school who, for unknown reasons, exclaimed occasionally, “Baby garbage!” He found this hilarious. Something was clearly lost in translation, possibly involving what is known as the diminutive. The idea of a little baby garbage, or female or beloved garbage, must have been comical from his culture’s perspective.
In May, we in Vermont practice Green Up Day, when volunteers pick up garbage, baby and otherwise, from roadside, riverside, and public spaces. I’d never done Green Up Day, so this Earth Day I got myself assigned to a remote stretch of dirt road. Sometimes you can have an excellent time alone. I did, filling two bags with all manner of Vermonty refuse—shell casings, beer and wine bottles, 175 cig butts, condom, saw blade—presumably tossed from cars by the Party People. But I came across lovelier man-made items as well: a fairy house, Royal Larocque’s farm, a stack of rocks. There are people who stack rocks, some sort of Skull and Bones-y secret order, I imagine. Perhaps you know their work. The Rock People.
Garbage has troubled me since the Mobro 4000 (a.k.a the Gar-barge) cruised around aimlessly and unwanted for seven months in 1987 with 3,000 tons of trash and no port from Brooklyn to Belize willing to take it. It was darkly comic to readers of the tabloids, but it probably wasn’t funny at all to the poor slobs piloting the thing, who no doubt needed gas masks by week two. The Gar-barge People also happened to be Mob People. No surprise there.
Years later, I became similarly dismayed at a resort in Jamaica. No one seemed to know where the thousands of plastic cups the bartenders chucked daily were going. And this was just one of a dozen such resorts. The waste was ruining my good time. Why couldn’t they use real glasses? Why’d I have to beg bartenders to re-use my plastic cup? Not that I ever had a second drink.
When questioned by my nieces about worldly horrors, I am often at a loss for words. They once asked me why I got angry when they ran out of sight in a park. I stammered, “There are beings… who… steal… children!” making it sound like some crazy troll in a fairytale out to get them. The author of Garbology, interviewed on the radio recently, revealed terrible facts about garbage that I could never explain to my nieces. The information was too disturbing for a family newspaper. Let’s just say we have a major problem on our hands, particularly in the oceans.
So I’m at the dump, where we recycle for free. I ask the attendant exactly what kind of machine can separate paper, plastic, and metal. He said, “It doesn’t. This goes into a trash compactor.” Oh. We don’t have that magic zero-sort machine other towns have? I ask him who wants our compacted garbage. China.” China?! What are they doing with it?! He answers by tugging on his shirt and letting it snap back while tilting his chin in the air. “We’re wearin’ it.”
I’m not really opposed to wearing garbage, but what else are they doing it with it? What do they need it for, what with many garbage-producing citizens of their own? I’m sure Garbology holds the answers. I’ll read it to my newborn nephew. He’s the only one who can handle the truth. Because he won’t understand it. He’ll just squawk and coo.
When confronted with distressing realities we can do little about, we look to scientists. In the future, whole planets may
be used as garbage dumps. Surely scientists can come up with something better. Look at all the solutions they’ve already delivered! Problem is, in a fame-obsessed culture fanned by reality TV, the Young People don’t want to become scientists any more. I propose a reality show where the YP compete for a fat cash prize (and, yes, celebrity) to solve Earth’s problems. Friend Harry suggests “Footprint Warriors”.
Do it up, Young People. We oldsters made a mess. It’s yours to fix. Maybe your hot young musicians can start by singing songs about garbage. Then, as some oldsters would argue, and have for generations, they already do. Good luck…and good day.