“I have been called a pioneer. In my book a pioneer is a man who comes to virgin country, traps off all the fur, kills off all the meat, cuts down all the trees, grazes off all the grass, plows up the roots and strings ten million miles of wire. A pioneer destroys things and calls it civilization.” – Charles Marion Russell – Cowboy Painter
How often do we think about garbage? What is being thrown away? How much of it and why is it being discarded, and where is it going to end up? It is easy to overlook these aspects of garbage for many reasons. Things like , “Garbage isn’t sexy” or “I am too busy to think about garbage” may come into our minds. But the real culprit to why we try and ignore the questions of garbage is that we have been conditioned to. This conditioning is a manifestation and direct result of our reliance on seemingly endless supplies of cheap fossil fuels.
It is these supplies of non – renewable fossil fuels that have formed the foundation for our hyper – capitalist, unlimited growth, disposable culture. It is the very nature of this system to produce, consume, throw away, and repeat. This process started in earnest with the dawn of the industrial revolution and the harnessing of the energy locked within coal – it only gained speed with the advent of oil!
Prior to the industrial revolution, and even in its earliest stages, goods for sale and trade were manufactured by artisans, craftspeople, farmers, and wives in their homes, kitchens, and workshops. With common hand tools and in some instances a selection of simple machines, most anything that one would need could be made or repaired in almost any community using a majority of local raw materials.
The blacksmith, the cobbler, and the cooper were all trades that were an indispensable part of the local economy that was based in towns and villages. Because so many of these pre-industrial goods could not be mass produced, most were built extremely well, and could be repaired when the time came. As an example, when someone bought a pair of boots, it is quite possible that those boots could last throughout their entire adult life. With the proper care (polishing and oiling), and the occasional re-soling of those boots, the idea of throwing them out would have seemed ludicrous to the owner of that pair of boots.
Another distinct difference between the pre -industrial economy and today’s disposable economy, is the role that people play. It is true that history is ripe with examples of human rights abuses and economic injustice, but we don’t have to look too far in today’s world to see these same traits as well. The life of a pre – industrial human was by no means glamorous, easy, or convenient. On average, people tended to die a bit younger, and because they did not have fossil fuel energy slaves doing the “heavy lifting”, much of the work was more physically demanding. But it is my contention that the blacksmith, cooper, or farmer from 300 years ago had more meaningful work than we do today and probably a better understanding of what it means to be human.
Today’s fast paced, “throw away” culture has stripped us of our humanity, and has reduced us to interchangeable and disposable cogs in a machine, and numbers on a spreadsheet. In a world of super computers and robots, very few physical skills, talents, or trades are needed anymore. Only the ability to follow directions and push a few buttons will see you through your 8 hour shift. Not only is this an insult to our humanity, it is also a waste of our inherit abilities and talents as sentient beings. From the time people started climbing down from trees and walking on two legs, we have been creators. Cave paintings and tools, fire, story telling, agriculture and religion – all of these are human inventions. Some good, some bad, some indifferent – but only in today’s world are any of these things disposable.
It is a sad reality where we find ourselves. Disposable people dying in a disposable, dying world. So little remains of what once made us human, and what made the Earth sacred. We have disposed of our great forests and endless grasslands. Spoiled the oceans and the sky. We have traded what it means to be human for “progress” and “convenience”, and now find ourselves lost, looking for something that can once again give us meaning in our lives.
The inspiration for this article came to me this last week. While it has taken on it’s own narrative, and has gone places I had not originally intended to go, I feel it does a good job of summing up the tragedy of a disposable culture. Last weekend while running errands, and picking up supplies for a project at home, I came across a dumpster at a doctor’s office that was being remodeled. What caught my eye as I was driving by was a 2×4 sticking out into the sky. Being a sucker for free lumber, I pulled up, climbed on in to the dumpster, and could not believe my eyes. As far as dumpster diving standards go, I just jumped into a gold mine. By the time I was done sorting through all I could, I ended up with 8 – 8ft. 2x4s, 6 – 6ft. 2x4s, 5 – 12ft. 2x8s, 1 – 4ft.x8ft. sheet of plywood, 4 – 2ft.x8ft. sheets of plywood, a brand new gallon bucket of joint compound for drywall, ½ inch finishing trim (lots), and a brand new plastic garbage can. There was even more stuff in the dumpster – industrial wooden doors, more plywood that I couldn’t get to, metal drywall corners, acoustical sealant (never opened), an old computer, and probably other things I didn’t even see.
This dumpster exemplifies our disposable culture. So much gets wasted that still has value. So much could be saved if we changed our habits and opened up our minds. So much needs to change if we hope to continue inhabiting this planet. Now, I know I am not alone when it comes to dumpster diving and salvaging old/new building materials and other useable items. There are plenty more of you out there who aren‘t afraid to jump into that dumpster, and I raise my beer to you. I realize dumpster diving is not going to save the world, but it is a start. And now I have enough brand new 2x4s to frame out a new wall in a home remodeling project, and enough plywood for making bottom boards and covers for beehives. It is truly awesome saving things from the waste stream, and giving them a new life! Peace & Cheers!!
I started this article out with a saddening quote from the great American painter, Charles Russell, I will finish with a video my friend Little John made about a free store in Washington state that is keeping useful things from going to the land fill!!