My sons have been home schooled all their short lives. This year they both started high school in what is as close to a real school as they have ever seen, a cooperative home school. It’s a first for our boys and a reminder for me of how woefully out of touch I am with the fate of America’s trash.
I teach a class at the school. The class is somewhat open ended. It was suggested to me that perhaps a recycling project would be instructive to my charges.
Fearing I would find myself correcting garbage journals, leading a field trip to a local dumpster or making chewing gum sculpture, I demurred. I mumbled something about wasted resources and silently hoped I’d be asked to teach something more in line with my talents, like beer drinking or pistol shooting.
That was a Friday. After class we cleaned up the room, swept, straightened, dusted. Everyone left. The only thing left to do was take out the trash. That’s when I noticed it. I was teaching in a trash shrine.
There were more waste baskets in the room than students in my class. I had two sets of three bins plus the can in the can. Two in each set of three were marked for paper and plastic. The third one was unlabeled but looked like it was for gum, broken pencils and Cheeze-its.
Clueless as to proper rubbish procedure, but unwilling to leave the mess festering in the room over the weekend, I chose to ignore the future of the planet. In an act of rubbish sacrilege I whipped them all into a single bag, put new bags into the empty containers and went looking for the dumpster.
Consumed with guilt, I skulked down the back stairs with a tell-tale single bag of trash. The dumpster was eight feet outside the fence. The gate was locked. Was this a test? I looked quickly around. Clear. I flung the bag toward the yawning mouth of the empty green container.
Always solid under pressure, I missed by three feet. The bag skidded into the middle of the road. A couple sitting on the porch across the street scowled at me like I’d kicked their dog.
I felt like a one man Mobro 4000, trapped in a trash disposal nightmare. For those of you who don’t remember the Mobro, it was the now famous garbage barge that in 1987 journeyed from New York to Belize and back looking for a place to dump some 300 tons of New York’s garbage. I seem to recall that Key West’s Mount Trashmore was briefly considered as a haven for Mobro’s load, but I may be mistaken about that.
Mobro’s voyage was a recycling project gone bad. Two trash entrepreneurs, one a Long Island mobster, planned to convert the garbage to methane at a fantastic profit. The project never recovered from rumors of medical waste on board. Rejected by its first destination in the Carolinas the barge wandered for months forlornly seeking a place to dump its ever softening cargo.
It ended up back in Brooklyn. They burned the garbage and buried the ashes in the town of Islip where most of it had originated. Staring at the bag I had just hurled into the street I knew what they must have felt like in Brooklyn. Like the Mobro, I drove around the block to retrieve my errant toss.
The Mobro incident began America’s almost religious mania for monkeying around with our trash. The EPA led the charge. The press followed blindly in a furious assault on improperly handled trash. When the politicians finally piled on, the project was doomed to become the appalling boondoggle it is today.
Municipal and state recycling is a huge waste of resources. The only beneficiaries are recycling contractors and politicians. It doesn’t help future generations, because it squanders today’s resources for no economic benefit. All the trash that can be efficiently recycled always has been and always will be. Anything that only a government agency will recycle at a financial loss represents a waste of human effort and resources. Most recycled waste falls into that category.
The true trash, the stuff no more useful than a Senator, is much more expensive to reuse than it is to bury. But with politicians involved a project doesn’t have to make sense. If the idea has a warm green feel to it, and is a proven vote getter, we can make it mandatory, or at least quietly subsidize it.
The other day one of my boys asked me how people decided what the price of a thing should be. I told him that the price of anything is a number that represents all the work, time, and resources that were used to make that thing. Recycled goods are more expensive than regular goods because they require more resources to make.
The difference between the price of recycled goods and regular goods is a donation we make at the Church of Our Lady of Environmental Correctness. If we have rubbish guilt to assuage there is certainly nothing wrong with lighting a candle. But if we are interested in saving the planet, we would do better to use its resources as efficiently as we can.