I take care not to romanticize the past. Many modern revolutions and conveniences, the computer and its many offshoots prominent among them, claim a significant portion of my day, every day. Many others will play critical roles in solving the crisis I will soon mention.
But, before that, my fascination: there’s something intensely motivational about the casual, robust creativity of turn-of-the-century homemakers. When they looked at a piece of cloth, not only did they see dozens of potential first uses, but they habitually planned out second, third, and sometimes all the way up to fifth or sixth uses for that product. Then, once threadbare and thoroughly “consumed,” they converted it again to living matter via compost.
To someone weaned with this mentality, “waste” is a non-concept, as foreign to their perspective on life as breathing air is to fish. In fact, I keenly recall learning of many of the struggles early 20th century marketers faced – “we have these nifty new substances (plastic, industrial waste we’ve found clever ways to monetize, etc.) and no market for them! How can we convince these ‘penny pinchers’ to spend more, faster? How can we convince them that they need these products?”
As I understand it, from these focused, well-funded, century-long efforts, our current consumer culture emerged. Ethical waste managers—tasked with managing millions of tons of “consumed” material and horrified at hundreds of 500+ acre landfills filling up faster and faster across the country, many of them lined with a thick layer of plastic (which promotes problematic anaerobic decomposition and what I will call the “time bomb” effect)—felt honor-bound to curtail the waste-stream with recycling programs.
Though food waste and other compostable material is a greater and more troubling landfill-density concern, recycling of plastics, metals, paper/cardboard, and other non-organic wastes can significantly reduce landfill load. However, for recycling to have any genuine impact at all, it is critical that we “close the recycling loop”. Actively purchasing products made from recycled plastics expands their market, funneling funds and innovation toward the solutions that will, hopefully, eventually either make the modern landfill model obsolete or encourage a fundamental redesign that truly protects and preserves the groundwater surrounding the landfill.
On a more personal level, perhaps a few (million) other folks will grow enchanted by that almost mythical homemaker mentality and join my wife and I on our journey. To the best of our ability, based (we hope) on sound reasoning and research, we aim to create a low-to-no impact lifestyle, and we’re doing our utmost to share this journey with any and all. You may follow our progress at www.ripplesblog.org, and can also keep up with my wife’s column, Making Ripples, in the Free Weekly.
-Ryan, Scanning Coordinator