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Forgetting The History Of Garbage

By Jim Sack, 4/30/2019

One of the worst proposals I’ve heard from city council over the past decade came during the discussion of the Red River garbage contract.

One of the councilmembers, one who champions freedom, libertarianism and rugged individualism called for the city to let everyone contract for themselves for their garbage service.

Most other council members, though not all, dismissed the idea out of hand with raised eyebrows, tilted heads, and disdainful looks.

Older members of council, and older members of community, along with historians would reflect on what a very stupid idea that was. They can remember when motorists tossed out garbage to rot on the side roads, or push refuse down river banks. The awarding of a communitywide garbage contract was a major step forward in public health and pollution control. Adding recycling as part of the program was a giant leap forward.

Councilman Jason Arp made the proposal. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and envisioned an unfettered free enterprise system with trucks from a dozen different companies plying the streets adding hundreds of daily garbage truck runs through your neighborhood and mine making everyday garbage day. Ah, the noise, ah the fumes, ah the blocked streets. It was truly a thoughtless idea, among the poorest uttered City council in the past decade.

In the 50s, there was a campaign on TV and in the public schools that was entitled ”don’t be a litterbug.” It became the national mantra and was an early step toward the Environmental Protection Agency.

Now we are in the battle again. Reports from the middle of the Pacific and Caribbean Sea tell of swirling concentrations the plastic the size of Texas in the Pacific in Connecticut in the Caribbean. Anyone who’s ever looked down has spotted plastic in the soil, in the grass, in the gutters, in the branches of trees. What we need is it more systematic approach two garbage collection and recycling, not Jason’s confusing free-for-all.

Moreover, what we really need this is a ban on single use plastic, and a push to reduce the stream of packaging that inevitably ends up in the landfill , or riverbank, if Jason has his way.

The problem is really at the supply end. Shouldn’t we require stores accept back the packaging they spew out their doors? One guesses that Lowes, Meijer, and Target would immediately put pressure on their suppliers to reinvent and minimize packaging.

As for society in general, it is time again for “don’t be a litterbug.” We can do our part by refusing plastic straws, plastic utensils, and plastic bags. I carry my own bags to the grocery. They are sturdier and save a few hundred plastic bags are year. not to mention they show me to be chic and trendy, my bags are literal life-style billboards that indicated I read Vanity Fair, give it to public broadcasting, and am somehow associated with Mercedes-Benz. These little billboards could equally advertise anything from the Girl Scouts to your favorite right wing hate group. You can vent your anger and cut back on plastic pollution all at once.

Our mounting garbage problem will not be solved by Jason Arp’s ill-thought idea but through a systematic approach at both ends of a product’s polluting lifecycle.

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