One man's trash is another man's ... well, trash
“Away,” at least to hear Tom Selleck tell it in those TV ads that lure people into buying behemoth, gas-guzzling RVs, is a place that’s not on any map ... but you know it when you find it.
And that’s sort of how we’ve become conditioned to think about our trash, our garbage, our waste. We throw it ... “away.”
Out of sight, out of mind — to someplace, with any luck, that’s not on any map.
That place used to be China, until the Chinese (who reportedly throw away 60 million food take-out containers a day) decided they no longer wanted our plastic spoons and disposable lighters ... leaving us with more junk than we know what to do with and a dwindling number of places for our stuff.
George Carlin would have a field day.
This deluge of detritus leads Americans to do what we do best — try to shame each other into living in greener pastures.
We ban plastic bags, impose a surcharge for disposable plates and cups, make you ask for carry-out containers (so that others can look at you with the proper amount of scorn) ... and create a market for custom reusable straws.
I’m all for cutting down on the estimated 500 million plastic straws Americans use each day, particularly since they simply litter the environment, wind up in trash piles or, worse still, in the ocean where they become a danger to both the environment and sea creatures.
But does that mean we should consider actually buying stainless steel straw kits that come with silicone mouthpieces — pliably soft to avoid both chipped teeth or scalding hot temperatures — as well as their own cleaning brushes and a handy-dandy carrying case?
Don’t we have enough pocket paraphernalia as it is? By the time you put your wallet, keys, phone, comb, daytime pill box, loose change, packet of preferred sweetener, evening pill box and the handy-dandy stainless steel straw set in your pants, that trip to the coffee shop seems a lot less like a Zen-like escape and more like a weekend camping trip.
Remember the good old days when straws were made of biodegradable paper? Of course, paper involves the cutting down of trees — and the last thing you want to put in the mind of someone who’s trying to live a zero-waste existence is that you killed a living, breathing thing just to satisfy your craving for a root beer float.
If you really want to give those folks an ice cream headache, drop into your casual exchange of cognitive offerings the inconvenient truth that it consumes four times as much energy to manufacture paper bags than it does plastic bags.
According to reusethisbag.com, paper bags create 70 times more air pollutants and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic; are much heavier, so they consume more energy to transport; and take 91 percent more energy to recycle than their plastic counterparts.
Reading that, I was as surprised as you are: Who knew there was a website called reusethisbag.com?
So, maybe, if we’re going to cut down trees, let’s do so for the purpose of creating something truly indispensable ... like, you know, newspapers.
Let’s face it, humans have been tossing asunder used materials since Adam and Eve decided they weren’t going to eat any more of that apple and they were in need of fresh fig leaves.
If they didn’t already live in a garden, they could have become the world’s first zero-waste composters.
Meanwhile, speaking of ice cream (there was ice cream in here somewhere, right?), one of the latest innovations being tested in the attempt to create less waste is reusable containers for everyday products.
The concept is that if you’ve used all your laundry detergent, deodorant or breakfast cereal, the handy-dandy stainless steel empty containers are picked up by the company, refilled and delivered back to you.
Thus far, toothpaste is not among the products being marketed for a test — because the physics involved in refilling a tube remain a mystery. But Haagen-Dazs is one of the companies involved — so, once you finish a pint of Sea Salt Caramel Truffle, you can get it refilled.
The only costs involved in this operation are the original purchase, the cost of the refill, the salaries of the delivery driver (and the fuel expended to go to your home and back), those who clean and repack the containers — not to mention the expense of operating the building where the process takes place, the overhead passed along to consumers for the company’s taxes, utilities, advertising, profit margin and kickbacks to the participating product companies ... and of course the loss of privacy associated with letting the world know that you recycle handy-dandy stainless steel tubs of Sea Salt Caramel Truffle ice cream.
Folks might look down over their silicone-mouthpiece straws at you.
I’m not sure who the target audience for such a service will be (I’m sure there’s one about to be born any minute), but I’m fairly certain it will be similar to the list of customers who spend $60 for a jug of “raw water,” filled from a faucet in Madras.
You might remember “raw water,” the craze that found its way into this space about a year ago.
It’s no surprise that it would boomerang its way back, considering that in my own efforts to be a zero-waste composter, I’m committed (or should be) to ensuring that each week’s column contains a certain percentage of recycled material.
And yes, I’ve told that joke before.
Stop Mail Tribune copy desk chief Robert Galvin if you’ve heard this before at email@example.com.