The Great Disposal

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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28 Responses

  1. Avatar Caleb
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    says:

    I get the argument that “hippies and environmentalists and liberals” have about our “disposable society.” I truly do. And I recognize the aspirations they have to construct meaningful alternatives. But I wonder if any of the true believers have any concept as to the absolutely monumental changes in societal and economic structures such a move would entail. (And the resulting impacts on technological progress and economic development.)

    You hint at one of the major problems in your post. Re-purposing (or even maintaining and reusing) takes time and expertise. Things break, even things built to last. Other things become obsolete, even things designed to be multi-purposeful. Combating this inevitable entropy of manufactured artifacts on a societal level implies a huge allocation of human capital and labor which might otherwise go to other purposes. As the nature of our manufactured goods becomes more sophisticated and more specialized, this drain on human resources grows exponentially.

    The implications are clear, I think. For human society to adopt a true form of “re-usability,” technological progress must cease, or at least slow down significantly. I’m not sure I wish to make the trade-off.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Caleb
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      says:

      Caleb, this is a great comment. I hope to reply more to it later, but I think it’s right. Sometimes I do think the longing for cradle-to-cradle often has a pastoral opposition to technological advancement in ways we don’t appreciate (and would, like you, probably oppose the tradeoff).Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Caleb
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      says:

      You are criticizing the absolute maximal version of the idea we should waste less and reuse more. Its usually easy to do that since the most far out version of ideas is, well. really far out. However lots of us think we would do well to , you know, waste a lot less, reuse more stuff and have a society that is less extravagantly wasteful. I’m not pining for some Ecotopia at all or any massive reallocation of everything around making macramé necklaces out of McD’s fry holders.Report

      • Avatar Caleb in reply to greginak
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        says:

        I disagree. I merely pointed out the existence of this particular trade-off, and implied that we might well be near the point of optimality as far as those two variables go in a social value calculus. My point was to criticize the failure to recognize the trade-off function, not the output of any one person’s calculus.

        There is also the possibility that the trade-off function is not linear. As far as I’m familiar with the school of thought, most “cradle-to-cradle” types (to borrow Will’s terminology), envision their goals as fully integrated and interdependent rather than unitary and modular. This implies a point of equilibrium below which there is a loss of value. I make no assertions as to the linearity of the trade-off, but merely point out that it is an unstated premise of your argument.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    Where I grew up, there was the right combination of economic diversity, curbside access, and pickup trucks that anything usable but unwanted could get put on the curb and, if it had any worth whatsoever, would be quickly picked up. If no one took it, the garbage collectors would grab it. Most stuff got taken. In fact, if you were moving, you had to be careful not to just leave stuff on the curb while you went inside for a literacola or it, too, would be gone.Report

    • Avatar roger in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      The curb still works well at my place. A huge segment of curbside repurposing goes to Hispanic gardeners. We don’t have much through traffic, but we have a constant stream of gardeners (actually mowers) coming through the area with pickups and trailers to carry their equipment. They come in with weed walkers and leave with old barbecues, large toys and old furniture.

      A win win.Report

  3. Avatar dexter
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    says:

    It never ceases to amaze me that very bright people think we can have infinite growth on a finite planet.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    We also have Craigslist to offer stuff that can be repurposed, like the auto swing Will discusses. In his case, there was way more stuff to deal with, all at once, than he could practically Craigslist because he was moving, but for most of us that’s a fine way to get something we’re done with into the hands of someone else who would be happy for it.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    I’ve still got an old 20″ tube TV in the basement I keep thinking someone is going to want. I’d just give it away, but I don’t know anyone who’ll take it. The curb doesn’t really work in my area and I don’t want to risk it getting broken out there and making a mess of things, plus I’m not sure the garbage collectors can or would take it. So for now, it just sits.Report

    • Avatar dexter in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      Kazzy, I don’t know where you live, but in Baton Rouge we have a place that recycles electronics so it is probable that there is one near you.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dexter
        Ignored
        says:

        I know the local DPW did a electronics recycling collection a few weeks back, but we mixed up the dates and I didn’t get to it. I’m sure I can find someone, I’ve just been a bit lazy about it.

        Also, I’m still waiting for Optimum to stop being douches and allow me to access basic cable without a $7/month box.Report

    • Avatar Dale Forguson in reply to Kazzy
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      says:

      Where I live it is illegal to send electronics to a landfill. It has to be recycled. There are semi-annual collection sites for any hazardous material (which includes electronics). One of my customers is a Not For Profit which supports developmentally handicapped adults. They process electronics for recycling to earn a little extra to support their operation. They have my enthusiastic support and i give them some free labor when I can.Report

  6. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    When we moved about 10 years ago, I finally admitted to myself that my collection of LPs wasn’t worth keeping and put it in with the other landfill items. I was about to toss it into the abyss when they guy next to me asked it he could look through it. He wound up asking if he could take the whole box, and of course I agreed. Like Will, I was happy that it had value to someone.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling
      Ignored
      says:

      Good golly. You could’ve sold them, or donated them to a thrift store, or set them on the curb with a sign saying “FREE RECORDS”. Somebody would’ve snapped them up; even if they aren’t worth playing, people will use the materials for arts & crafts. Glad they found a home. Report

  7. Avatar Just Me
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    says:

    Growing up we had a township landfill that we would go to. I always looked forward to “dump” day. Not only did we get to load the truck up with stuff and haul it away, we got to peer over the edge of the dump and see what cool stuff was thrown down into the big whole. Invariably there was always something being burnt at the bottom. If people thought someone would like something they would just leave it out by where you threw stuff over the edge. Someone else would come along and take it home. We came home one time with a dirt bike that after a couple of trips to a junk yard my brother got working. I always looked at the dump as one centralized thrift shop, except you didn’t have to pay for anything.Report

  8. Avatar Stillwater
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    says:

    I used to live in a little town that twice a year had two weekends a year to dump stuff for free. As much as you wanted. Bring it in, and they took it.

    We brought some stuff over and started looking around at all the really nice stuff people were throwing away. We shook our heads about waste and all, but then noticed that the staff had organized types which people could reclaim if they so desired. So my wife and I acquired a really huge hand woven Persian rug (like, 18 by 12), a lawn mower, a really sweet microwave, other assorted smaller items. Other people were also scavenging for not-trash. It was really cool.Report

  9. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    While visiting a friend of a friend at his beach house, we had to take all garbage and recyclables to the dump. You sort of stood on a ledge and throw the different things into their requisite bins: trash here, cans there, bottles over yonder. Seeing as how we were in our mid 20’s and spent most of the weekend drinking, we took an incredible amount of glee in tossing each individual beer bottle down atop the pile, delighting in the sound and image of them breaking open. We probably spent a good hour doing just that. As I remember saying on a thread a while back about running over turtles, there is something viscerally powerful about the act of destruction.Report

  10. Avatar ScarletNumber
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    says:

    From watching The Simpsons, I know in theory that people go to garbage dumps, but I have never had the experience. I put my trash on the curb on the proper days, and it magically disappears.Report

  11. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    Dude… I just stumbled on to freecycle.org. Any familiarity with it? Seems like an easy way to rid yourself of things productively.Report

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