Aside from the literal sense, something likely higher than the 2.6trillion pounds of garbage we collectively produce (and largely store in landfills where it won’t decompose easily) as reported a few years back by the Atlantic, there is this other type of garbage we are constantly surrounded by.
Ads galore selling us on the notion that we need things we never needed before. Fashion scarves and iPhone docks and flatter TVs and cars that can park themselves. Coffee makers that eliminate the need for us to do much work at all. Coffee shops that charge five times what it would cost us to make a cup of coffee at home ourselves. We’re sold on convenience. Who wants to park their own car? Who wants to make their own coffee? Who wants to roll a cigarette? Even at a fraction of the cost–and smoking has never been more costly–we choose the convenience even with the elevated price. Buying a $5 sandwich at Subway which would have cost you less than $2 to make, even if you used higher quality ingredients, is all about convenience.
But we’re not just losing money. We’re losing experience.
Brewing a pot of coffee in the morning, drinking something you made for yourself, it is something to do, whether you find it fulfilling or not. Though smoking is terrible for your body, if you are a smoker, rolling those smokes is something to do. Making your own sandwich means you are making something.
We’ve been told that these conveniences free us up to have more time to pursue the other things we want to do. But what are we doing with that time?
Watching television or looking at our phones. Eating that Subway sandwich in our car so we can run errands at lunch instead of sitting there, just eating.
Garbage is not just a thing we produce every time we consume. The way we spend our time is garbage.
The houses we build are garbage. Pre-fab look-a-likes that only the very rich can afford, because only the very, very rich can afford custom mansions these days. Walk through an historic section of a town. The buildings may be 200 years old here in the United States, significantly older in Europe and Asia. Will a pre-fab house built today make it to 2215? Doubtful. Even if the construction was good enough, no one wants the old. We don’t care about charm and history, we care about clean lines and new, new, new. Ours.
We build roads that we know will need to be fixed in a couple of years. It keeps the DOTs in perpetual business. iPhones are sold for over $600 without the discount you get from your cell provider (that is, if you bought one without signing a contract). A $600 phone that will rarely last you more than two years. Even if you don’t physically break it, upgrades to the software which are almost forced upon us render the thing inoperable if you’re not willing to wait 30 seconds for any tap to do its given action. It keeps the economy going, right?
The President gave a speech a few years back about how important it is we continue to grow our economy.
But the notion that keeping people working requires something new all of the time is a sham. It costs less to fix a broken iPhone screen than it does to buy a new one, yet we rarely have them fixed. More for the landfills, less money for ourselves, and so more need to produce more so we can have jobs to do both the production and the purchasing.
The world is full of garbage. It’s interesting to note that the same Atlantic article from those years back tallied the amount of garbage created every day by a person in the developed world as being 2.6 lbs (of that 2.6trillion produced annually). We produce our weight in garbage every three months, effectively quadrupling the amount of physical space every human takes up every year. And there are more and more humans every year. Soon, the literal sense of “full” will be true. There will be no space left for anything but garbage.
The world used to be full of trees. And fish. And animals.
Now it’s McDonalds wrappers and pavement and landfills to house it all. When’s the last time you saw a coyote? What’s the difference between a fir and a spruce? You probably don’t know, but you know the difference between a Samsung phone and an iPhone at first glance.
Our priorities, it seems, have also turned into garbage.