Do you ever think about what the world will look like when you reach your golden years? I think for all of us, the answer can be found in the question. We see a golden time. We see what we want to see.
But what if, just what if, the next time you take your garbage to the curb, you think about where that bag goes once it leaves your home. What if you were to think about the barrels of petroleum that power our cars and make the fertilizer that grows our crops. What about all the paper coffee cups that are used once and discarded (about a billion a day). What if we think about where that disposable plastic bag goes after we bring our stuff back from the store and throw it out? The future stops looking golden, and quick.
At my place of work, the city’s department of the environment, this reality, this future, is all to real. And today, even we had a wake up call. My coworkers and I attended a screening of the documentary film “Trashed,” narrated by Jeremy Irons. The film covered the state of the wastes-tream, worldwide. Moreover, it noted the incredible and unusual changes of the last 50 years that have markedly changed our relationship with waste- the advent of plastics and their affects on our environment and our health.
The future (and present) is grim, folks. A particularly low moment came for me when Harrisburg, PA, not far from my childhood home, was called out for its problems with dealing with their waste-stream, putting particular focus on their incinerator and what using it has done to the local community. Mind you, Three Mile Island nuclear facility is not far away, and I have vivid memories of the famous meltdown there, too. Dioxins from the incinerator pose the more contemporary health threat, not to mention how it’s bankrupted the city. The film explores the problems of trash incineration in saddening detail.
But the film importantly points to actions that we can take to bend the curve back to balance. There was a cheer from the audience as the film shifted to San Francisco, and our progressive policies and actions to divert material from landfills to recycling and composting programs. Did you know that San Francisco diverts fully 80% of discarded material away from landfill to compost or recycling? And the aim is 100% by 2020. That’s right, no landfill by 2020. It can happen if we truly try.
One of my coworkers was interviewed by Irons in the movie and spoke eloquently about all these actions. A panel discussion followed the screening tonight and dove just a little deeper, as we searched to find ways to answer the call of the movie to stand up and demand action.
Sure the government can play a role by passing legislation. We’ve banned the plastic bag in San Francisco, and styrofoam foodservice packaging, too. Recycling and composting are mandatory for residents and businesses alike.
But there needs to be producer responsibility. Business and manufacturing need to produce products that are more easily recycled, and ones that consume less energy in being manufactured.
Above all, there needs to be a groundswell demand from the public for change. Everything we throw away is a choice, and so is everything we keep. What about addressing our behavior around consumption? What about avoiding single use, convenience packaging? Why not reuse containers and bags? Why not build a sharing economy? Why not demand every municipality have a composting program? Why not eliminate the harmful chemicals that already are poisoning our land and water. Decommission the incinerators.
This is what the movie inspired for me, but I encourage you to check it out. Find more at the following website. Link to the movie’s website: TRASHED – This is the story of garbage.
Think about what you throw away. Think about what you keep.
and Waste Nothing.