I’ve been worried about my consumption. No, not like Camille, Satine, Violetta, Mimi. Although the choking sensation of those tragic female figures is an apt metaphor for the feeling I’ve been having about the vast amount of stuff I consume, the leavings from which I throw away each week.
Tuesday is trash day in my neighborhood, so every Monday night I go about emptying the wastebaskets, consolidating the recyclables, bagging up the garbage and trash to put out on the curb to feed the next morning’s ravenous caravan of city trash trucks. And I am increasingly appalled at the size and weight of those trash bags.
It’s just me. Not a family of five.
Oddly enough, most distressing are the recyclables. A full grocery bag of paper; newspaper, advertising mailers, throwaway computer printouts, junk mail, deflated cardboard boxes from cereal, chips, pasta, etc. So much. Then there’s the plastic; shameful numbers of clamshell containers from fruits and vegetables, empty milk, juice, lemonade containers, yogurt, hummus, shredded cheese tubs, lethal-edged packaging cut and ripped off purchases at the hardware store, Target, elsewhere. Then glass; wine and salad dressing bottles, empty pasta sauce and jelly jars. Cans from coffee, soup, stewed tomatoes, cat food. And dozens of miscellaneous plastic tabs, fasteners and other petroleum-based detritus. Not to mention Styrofoam! Again, it’s just me. Every week.
I read somewhere that organic produce actually creates more plastic wrapping trash than non-organic food. It seems that because organics are more costly to grow, and generate a greater loss when they spoil, the producers try to extend their shelf life with more substantial packaging. Even trying to live a more sustainable life, it seems, you just can’t win the consumption battle.
I’ve moved twice in recent years, downsizing each time. I’ve gotten to a place where I am happy living with ‘just enough’ in many categories of existence. I don’t need multiple place settings for eight – or twelve, or every fancy kitchen appliance I may use once a year – or less. But after several trips to the Salvation Army, I still have more clothes than I can wear in a season.
So, what’s the answer? I could buy all my fruit and veggies by the piece, rather than pre-packaged, get my nuts and gains and even coffee in bulk – but not cat food or milk. I suppose I can make my own salad dressings, pasta sauce, soups. I do some of that already. I bring my own bags to the grocery, use both sides of paper for printing. I think most of us do these things these days. But still, there is so much to throw away each week.
We live our busy lives ordered in large measure by convenience as well as the structure of our disposable economy – and not a little bit of greed. We want and, can have, so much more than we will ever need. See my blog about the cereal aisle.
I am increasingly aware – and concerned – that our social order and our capitalist economy are both driven by a sense that unlimited commercial choice is inherently good. Each trash day comes, and I’m not so sure.