America continually ranks as one of the highest per capita consumers in the world. While this is interpreted as an indicator of a booming economy (it is the basis for our GDP calculations), little discussion focuses on the end-life of the products we consume.
We live in an age where many products are designed with low levels of craft, some are even designed with planned obsolescence. Thus, with few products being designed for reuse, the majority will end up going through our country’s disposal system.
Conventional trash collection accumulates an enormous surplus of raw materials which release methane into the air and create groundwater and soil pollution. In New York City alone, over 26,000 tons of garbage is generated EVERY DAY. What a waste.
During the 1970s, recycling became offered as an additional service to help avert materials from landfills. Recycling is often touted as a sustainable action, but in some cases (especially plastics) the process is just as energy intensive as producing an entirely new product.
Furthermore, many products still exist that are created with chemical fusions that cannot be broken down for recycling. Why create packaging that outlives its product by thousands of years? Should plastic bags really have to struggle with their immortality? Future-minded designers are working to create products and packaging that are truly regenerative (read this in your bathtub) but until then, we must reconsider our system for disposal.
There is currently no standard disposal system for the United States. Each jurisdiction is free to create its own standards, pricing and regulations. When I moved to the west coast, I encountered my first little green bin and discovered the benefits of city-wide compost collection. Alternatively, the Chicagoland suburb where I was raised is only just now completing its first trial compost collection. Its system is only available April through November (the months that yard waste generation is highest), and costs an additional $14 per month. Not only has the administration overlooked the amount of food waste generated throughout the year, but they charge an amount almost equivalent to the garbage bin ($18 per month) for providing this service.
Why are we penalizing residents who avert waste from our landfills and take the time to sort waste in their own homes? Why has no one factored in the cost of pollution aversion into this option? Without completing a life-cycle analysis of this system we will continue to blindly encourage behavior that is wasteful and ignore those members of society trying to make a difference.