Back in the 1990s, I read about some researchers who had excavated a landfill near Chicago and discovered some hot dogs, still quite recognizable, that had been buried since 1952.
That gave me nightmares; I was then about forty, and those hot dogs were the same age I was. It was enough to make you question whether hot dogs are in fact actually food. I mean, if a landfill couldn’t digest them after all these decades, how can we?
Well, landfill operators have better techniques now for making sure things, at least organic matter, really do decompose in landfills. But they can’t do much about plastics, which take a thousand years to break down. Which makes me think that somewhere far beneath the surface, those plastic toys I broke back in the Eisenhower administration are still intact.
So I would like to take this occasion to publicly say to the Planet Earth that I’m sorry. Recycling was essentially unknown half a century ago, and we are doing more and more of it every year, which is good. However, we weren’t creating and emptying millions and millions of plastic water bottles every week. There is actually a profession called garbology, the study of garbage, and garbologists are scientists who study garbage and ways of handling it.
However, we may need sociologists, or maybe slobologists, to explain why so many people think it is all right to throw their trash out the window, dump it in parks, and not pick up after their dogs. I have no idea whether people are worse about this now than they were in my childhood, but I do know this much: There are more people now than there were then.
I have an Australian Shepherd dog who I take for a run most days in a park in Southfield. There are seldom other people there when I go, but there are small liquor bottles and sometimes pop cans and other trash scattered about at the park entrance.
When I can, I pick this stuff up and deposit it in a trash barrel. This annoys my dog, because it takes time away from my flinging the ball, but it makes me feel marginally better about occupying space on the planet and using up its oxygen. Thirty years ago, I might have worried about what I looked like carrying an armload of trash in the park. I’ve grown up since then.
I can’t claim, however to be doing nearly as much good as people like Peg Collins and Jeff Lygon, or others who do as they do. There are two reasons we should all get a lot more trash conscious. One is aesthetic – we don’t want to live in or around what look like trashy vacant lots.
The other, of course, is environmental. Plastic is various forms is ruining the seas, killing whales and other marine mammals, and killing birds and small critters closer to home. They not only ingest it, they get stuck in it, and the stuff takes centuries to degrade.
I’m not a sociologist or a psychologist, but I do know that people who are starting to feel better about themselves and their surroundings do a better job of keeping them up. In some streets in Detroit these days, strangers are mowing the lawns at abandoned homes and vacant lots. That wasn’t happening a decade or so ago, but it’s starting to now.
However, it’s going to take a lot of prodding and reminding, I think Peg Collins ought to wear her garbage dress every chance she gets. Otherwise, we may all be in garbage, like it or not.