Wednesday, May 16, 2012


The city of Seattle's ban on plastic bags takes effect on July first, and that's all right by me, and by anyone else who's the least concerned with our trash crisis.

We've ignored that plastic trash midden the size of Texas which is killing wildlife in the North Pacific for way too long. In fact, we've ignored the trash crisis much longer than we should have, and at our extreme peril.

The capitalist class of owners and manufacturers endlessly touts the ease and convenience of our disposable society, but if we look at what's resulted from it at ground level we recognize that it's not the least bit easy or convenient.

Wendell Berry grew up alongside the Kentucky River near where it joins the Ohio, at a time when the surrounding landscape was mostly small, gem-like farms, lovingly worked by hands and mules. Today the prospect has radically changed for the worse, and a large part of problems is trash.

"When the river rises," Berry writes, "it carries a continuous raft of cans, bottles, plastic jugs, chunks of styrofoam, and other imperishable trash. After the floods subside, I, like many other farmers, must pick up the trash before I can use the bottomland fields." Noting that he has seen the Ohio so choked with this debris that an ant would be able to walk "dry-footed" from Kentucky to Indiana, Berry complains that "Our roadsides and roadside fields lie under a constant precipitation of cans, bottles, the plastic-ware of fast food joints, soiled plastic diapers, and sometimes whole bags of garbage."

"Moreover," Berry says, "a close inspection of our countryside would reveal, strewn over it from one end to the other, thousands of derelict and worthless automobiles, house trailers, refrigerators, stoves, freezers, washing machines, and dryers; as well as thousands of unregulated dumps, in hollows and sink holes, on streambanks and roadsides, filled not only with "disposable" containers, but also with broken toasters, television sets, toys of all kinds, furniture, lamps, stereos, radios, scales, coffee makers, mixers, blenders, corn poppers, hair dryers, and microwave ovens."

Berry sees the avalanche of trash appliances and furnishings as a result of "intentional flimsiness and unrepairability" of this stuff, and concludes, "There are days when I would be delighted if certain corporation executives could somehow be obliged to eat their products."

Obviously we're looking at a massive job cleaning up this mess, but even more obviously, the worst struggle occurs at the source, putting an end to the production of this garbage. And that's the hard part, because in this modern and up-to-date nation, anything that turns a profit and for which there is a demand is the holy of holies -- sacred and untouchable.

We live in the only country in the history of the world where people lobby for war, death (the weapons industry), and making more trash and garbage. But not here in the good old Northwest, where banning the bag is an important first step.

All quotes from Wendell Berry appeared in his essay "Waste" (1989).

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