Nine Circles of Disposal Hell
I went dumpster diving today from 3-6am, hoping to find discarded items that would be of use to me, primarily to furnish an apartment next semester. My goal is to spend as little money as possible on the new space, yet through a little re-working of some everyday items wind up with a living space of unique and interesting pieces that don't belie my status as a "designer." We'll see how things go.
some items uncovered:
-complete new set of matching ABS coathangers (something i've never had)
-dishrack I wanted in the beginning of the year but couldn't afford.
-3-shelf rolling storage cart
-fully-functional folding papasan lounge
-practically unused backpack used to carry all this stuff. (we're talkin like...rip-stop nylon, laptop support, 7-compartment, everything and the kitchen sink bag)
-2 large mirrors, one black wood frame, one grey-stained victorian ornamental, both unscratched.
And my personal favorite:
In one receptacle I saw a brilliant display of flashing leds and heard catchy 8-bit music. It turned out to be this:
It was pretty cool, and completely unscathed, so i threw it in my bag and rode off only to later discover the probably reason it's previous owner threw it out in the first place: the thing wouldn't shut the hell up. Turns out there's no off button. like an oceanic furby. also, the battery compartment is accessible via the smallest phillips head screw on earth, so no luck there. But, the NES-style tunes (which were actually quite varied) eventually kept me company rather than annoy me to the point of returning it to a trash bin wit ha swift kick to the dorsal. With a USD pricetag of $65, I just couldn't refuse.
So, the trip was amazing, I found some cool stuff, explored campus when nobody was around, and got to watch the sun rise while an alarmingly loud (but overall enjoyable) menagerie of birds signaled the start of the day.
The trip was also incredibly depressing. The amount of trash accumulated in the dumpsters was no surprise, but the quantity, quality, and state of the things discarded that weren't necessarily garbage was astounding. To top things off, approximately 40% of what I saw was cardboard. Cardboard is not trash, it is a fusion of tiny wood strands pressed together to form a structurally rigid sheet. When reused or reprocessed, it creates more cardboard, is used for composting agents, and serves as a highly efficient form of thermal fuel.
Another 10% of receptacle content was pure white paper, also a collection of processed wood product, and also usable after reprocessing, mostly to create more paper. Another 5% was comprised of functional, unbroken furnishings (The stuff I kept were few of many choices).
another 5% was computer parts, the majority of which were CRT's and printers. CRT's are one of the worst things that can be thrown into a landfill, not only serving as solid, un-biodegradable mass, but leeching on average 8 pounds of lead into the environment (per monitor)upon breeching of the cathode tube.
probably 10% of the remainder was solid wood product, which, in an even less-processed state that that of cardboard or paper, is nowhere near the end of its life cycle.
20% of everything was carpet and rugs, most of which were completely fine, all of which could be cleaned, and one of which will go under my feet next year (a large and particularly beautiful light-sand colored tall-fibred specimen) I mean...there was a lot of freaking carpet there.
2% was clothing and shoes, many of which were only slightly used. These could have gone to collection boxes for the poor. (they're all over the fucking campus, find one and give a poor kid some kicks)
the majority of the rest was actual trash, in actual trash bags. BUT maybe 15% of this? were aluminum and plastic drinking vessels.
Now before I launch into a tirade about the issues present in my findings, I will say that I have absolutely no idea whether or not the contents of these bins will be sorted through (like many dumpsters on campus) by a recycling center before heading off to an actual landfill. If that's the case, then a lot of the "problem" here will be averted, and much of the material saved from useless death in an oxygen-starved mountain of trash. I will also say that by writing this, I am quite the hypocrite. I guarantee you that I buy more crap, waste more water and electricity, and am responsible for the discarding of more un-recycled material in any given work week than most people are in a semester.
But there are other things that people can do (even fall into the habit of doing) that require minimally more effort than just simply placing everything in sight in a trash bin or dumpster.
The nine circles of disposal hell:
1) duds, kicks, and lids-
If you've got clothing or shoes or fanny-packs you don't wan't anymore, don't toss 'em. Try selling them to places like Plato's closet first (if in good condition and still in style)- you'll actually get paid for them. If they reject your camo gear, parachute pants, and wasssuuup! shirt-- fear not, you can donate them to a second hand store where financially-strained people (or kids looking for halloween costumes) can buy it for little mula. Thirdly, and most honorably, find a "clothing drive" or whatever bin and donate the clothes to starving kids in africa or homeless people here.
If you're a college student living in a shitty dorm with a floor that has a color scheme that a partially blind person obviously concocted, I feel your pain and have been there before. you'll probably want to buy a carpet to cover up your tiffany lamp of a bare floor- understandable. But think about the end of that year: will you be able to carry it home or ever use it again? will it adapt to your ever-changing style needs? (maybe black is a better choice than your seasonal need for some hot pink in your life) do you need a carpet that big or will a smaller one do just fine? I saw too many carpets today that won't be making the journey home with their owners.
3) furniture and furnishings-
So you got some cool stuff for your room for the year, a fold-up chair to snuggle up in to watch a movie or cry for 3 hours because dammit, Noah really did still love her...., a mirror so you can getcha hair did, maybe even a TV stand or a storage rack for your nike collection if you really pimping out the place. But ask yourself the same questions as above^...are you ever gonna use this thing outside of the room you first put it in? Is it worth spending a little more on something you might want to keep for more than a year? can you make something out of stuff thats lying around that will serve just as well as what you're about to drop 50 bucks on? can you take something just like it from home that your family already owns instead of buying it brand new? nobody cares about you intricately color-matched room courtesy of target or pier1(and trust me, I'm talking about guys JUST as much as ladies), so relax--you're still gonna get laid even if your file folders and bedsheets "clash".
4) that secondary xylem you call "table"-
WOOD. I have a soft spot in my heart for it. completely renewable, strength-to weight ratio rivaling that of carbon fiber, lowest energy to process of virtually any material, and the list of awesomeness goes on...But just because it's ridiculously easy to just make more wood products doesn't mean you should toss out that table or shelf when it breaks or you need to get rid of it, wood is entirely recyclable and for the most part, biodegradable (but not in an microbe-deprived landfill, where a lot of it winds up going). I'm actually hung-up on HOW to recycle wood though...there's a few select dumpsters around campus that will accept it, but most of them are pretty inconvenient for a lot of students. Please discuss ideas below:
5) plastics make it possible-
so you recycle your vault bottles like a good lad, and thats great, good for you. BUT, it might surprise people to know that bottles aren't the only thing made of plastic that you can recycle. It all depends on the numbers 1-7 (1-6 in some cases). before you toss anything made of plastic, check on the bottom or side for the triangle recycle symbol, and find the number inside of it. The number corresponds to a certain thermo-plastic polymer, each of which is compositionally pure and capable of being remelted with nearly zero-material loss and formed into another plastic thing. So if it has a number on it and will fit, toss it into a recycling container marked for plastic bottles. Check out this site for info on what numbers mean what and common products that are made from them:
6) electronic wasteland-
Computers and electronics and things of that technological nature are great, probably some of the most amazing achievements mankind has ever created, next to the lay-Z-boy and pb&j in the same jar. However, a potential downside is that technology changes VERY fast. meaning the laptop you buy your freshman year might be in the smithsonian when you graduate. It's scary fast- it's estimated that by 2013 there will be a computer that can exceed the processing capabilities of human brain. Get ready for the robot war. But as fast as computers and technology are evolving and their peripherals being updated and replaced, these items are potentially hazardous if disposed of using traditional methods. Check with best buy, officemax, circuit city, or any computer supply place or junk service and they'll tell you how to properly dispose of things that can really do a number on the environment. Also, if you're doing a lot of computer graphics and art stuff, don't be too quick to toss that CRT- they have color display capabilities that are far more accurate than modern LCD's, so if you're having issues with display-print inconsistencies, give your old monitor another go at it, it might save you some hassle.
7) what can brown do for you?-
Cardboard. There's just too damn much of it getting thrown away. It's not a hard fix, either- although not as abundant as traditional recycling containers are, cardboard dumpsters are pretty frequent, especially on college campuses. If you're a good person you'll break down the boxes like the dumpster asks you to. If you're an even better person you'll remove any tape, staples, and labels before chucking it. If you're a super-cool person, you'll save it all, buy some ducttape, and be a transformer for halloween.
8) it's white, flat, and reeeally flexible-
No, it's not your mom. It's paper. also no excuse for throwing this stuff away. While humanity makes the steady transition to portable electronic "e-paper" you can do your part to put the current means of textual communication to good use by not dooming it to a garbage bin. If you're trying to score extra brownie points with the poor guy who has to empty and sort the recycling containers, you'll be sure to remove any tape and staples, and separate the pure white office paper from the "mixed paper products" and place each in their respective bin. a lot of packaging materials, newspapers, magazines, etc. can be placed in the "mixed paper" bin, along with thinner forms of cardboard like 6 or 12-pack containers, shampoo boxes, general smaller box packages, etc.
9) the unholy trinity-
Aight, now for my wrath: trashbags filled with 67 cans of PBR from your party last night in the dumpster?
Seriously, just fucking kill yourself, cause that's ridiculous. there are recycling containers that take glass, plastic, and aluminum that line the entrance to nearly every building on campus. Your building not have one? here's a splendid idea: walk to the next building over. Or make a homemade bong, I don't care. and LOOK AT THIS: http://www.chrisjordan.com
As a consumer, the moment you purchase something you've made a choice and a commitment. You've made the choice to consume something that was taken from this earth, and ultimately made the choice to one day return it to the earth in a different and possibly harmful state than it was originally. You've also made the commitment to be the owner, sole guardian, and exploiter of said object. It's lifespan and the efficiency and usefulness with which it lives it's life will be determined by you.
Once said by a man who was wiser than you (therefore you should listen silently and attentively):
"we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from out children."
I think our children have a bleak future.
-- Patrick Murphy
In other quick news, despite my recent tirade about politics in North Carolina, Obama had an amazing showing Tuesday night and won NC decisively and kept Indiana close, all but locking up the nomination for himself. Now if we can just get Hill-dog to step down and concede. It's the best thing for all involved, especially for the unity of the Democratic party heading to November.
As of Tuesday at 10 a.m., I am a senior. I finished my last exam and now have just one year left before I don the Carolina Blue cap and gown and sit, terrified, in Kenan Stadium. It's a scary time, but I plan to make the best of it. You're only in college once.
That's all for now. Go recycle something.