Friday, March 12, 2010

Planned Obsolescence

The words "Fresh Kills" immediately brought to mind grisly images of flesh-eating predators when I first read about it. Also, since four-legged animals are no longer part of my diet, I somehow thought it was the name of some slaughterhouse. Well, the truth proved even more interesting. "Fresh Kills" is the name of a landfill on the New York City borough of Staten Island, formerly the largest in the world. During its heyday, it was said that the Fresh Kills landfill could be regarded as being the largest man-made structure on Earth! It derives its name from its location, oddly enough, along the banks of the Fresh Kills Estuary in western Staten Island. Fresh kills, fresh trash, situated in an estuary, which is in so many words, a place where a river meets the sea, to provide nutrient-rich waters to a great number of wildlife including breeding fish and migratory birds. Seen in this way, "fresh kills" takes on an even darker connotation.

It's often a pointless exercise to think about what we are going to do with all this trash. While it is true that we are now more aware and vigilant, and that many industries are stepping up their efforts to reduce waste, it still seems we are light years away from a world where we don't have to throw so much away. Wastefulness it seems, is built into the system of our daily existence. Short of asceticism, trying to live out even an entire day without putting something in the dumpster is very, very hard. The manner in which we are realistically able to carry out the basic activities of our existence such as eating, has become an exercise in throwing away. One way or another, there will be a cardboard cereal box, a plastic bag, a pen with no more ink, a yogurt container an old newspaper or a pair of shoes that we will have to throw away. This is how we live--virtually everything we use everyday has a life cycle equivalent to that of a fly's. Almost nothing made out there is meant to last, and if it does not break, we have been so brainwashed to tire of it so easily, that we throw away even perfectly sound objects, simply because we have grown tired of them.

Those who have lived during a time in which nobody living today has ever known, used and savored every last bit of whatever it is they had. We however, are either not able to, or simply do not want to. Most of the things we have are simply not made to last. Our tastes have become so dulled that we are oftentimes virtually incapable of selecting things that we can love and keep forever. 

Fresh Kills landfill was closed in March 2001. Plans and operations are underway to convert it into a public park, to become "symbol of renewal and an expression of how our society can restore balance to its landscape." Today, my husband found dental floss sticks that are 100% biodegradable. Next month, I plan to purchase used bar stools off the local Craigslist instead buying new ones. My kids' elementary school no longer prints newsletters which can now just be viewed online. In my hometown of Marikina, this small city has institutionalized the separation of organic household waste and has its own composting facility, no small feat for a little town in a developing country. 

The words "Think Globally," I think, needs to take on new meaning. We should come to look at it as "always having our planet in mind." In a following post, we will look at some words that can guide us in our efforts to conserve our environment such as "cradle-to-cradle," "FSC-certified," "VOCs" and many more.

Keep posted!

Learn more about trash with these great links:
The Seven New (Garbage) Wonders of the World
Fresh Kills Park
The Story of Stuff

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