We’ll get to a better definition of “sustainable” in just a moment. For now, imagine that everything you dispose of in just one week has been assembled into a neat pile. That’s solid waste or garbage, fluids you need to get rid of, and for fun… let’s put in all the stuff that comes out of your body.
Now as you visualize that pile, imagine that by law you were required to carry that pile with you everywhere that you went. Each week the pile becomes bigger; the weight greater, the old stuff smelling worse, the fluids dripping and seeping. All of it riding on your shoulders in your personal backpack. And there is no place to get rid of your burden. And your spouse and your children are all carrying their piles, too.
This might be one way to understand what people are talking about when they start chanting “sustainability.” Once your backpack becomes several times bigger than you are, what are you hoping to do about it? I would offer that you might then start thinking of changing your ways. Looking at any means by which that load you carry might be turned into something useful, or any new way you might lead your life and not simultaneously be adding to your backpack.
Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment never mentions my “backpack” analogy, but their statement of purpose seems to align with it.
“The Office of Sustainability and the Environment is responsible for developing and implementing policy initiatives that promote local environmental, economic, and social sustainability and integrating resource management, conservation, and sustainability practices with ongoing City operations. Regulatory activities are related to hazardous materials and waste site cleanup, consumer awareness, ozone-depleting compounds, water conserving plumbing fixtures, urban runoff management, leaf blowers, plastic bags and non-recyclable food service containers. “
We’re lucky to have a pro-active office dedicated to facing the reality that, unfortunately, we live on Planet Garbage. I mean, you don’t see photos of solid waste dumping sites piling-up on the surface of Mars. No acres and acres of rusting automobile hulks. No water poisoned by industrial waste. No ugly pools of dumped motor oil. Nope, that’s us. Go Earthlings!
I was encouraged to read on The Mirror’s website that a new service for home collection of household hazardous waste has had a good response: More than 800 residents got on the phone and said “Please pick up my gunk and dispose of it in a ‘green’ manner” during the 11 month pilot program. Grinch that I am, however, I’m driven to observe that we may not be slowing down our production of gunk, ooze, chemical waste, and dangerous garbage in general.
This column wrote recently of looking to get rid of spent fluorescent light tubes; long, thin glass tubes that at any moment could shatter and leave fine splinters of glass everywhere. It was fortunate that the Household Hazardous Waste Center here at City Yards would take them for me. But that’s just one single item that our own household dumped back into the world at large. Think of all the households everywhere, then for fun throw in such things as industrial smoke stacks and the BP oil spill. Now imagine that the ‘material’ you flush down your toilet every day is mostly taken care of, but not as well some places as in others. Is anybody getting mildly nauseous yet?
Let’s look at type and amount. Materials that are “accepted” by the Hazardous Waste Center here in Santa Monica include aerosols, paint and paint-related fluids, auto batteries, auto-related fluids, cleaners, personal care fluids like nail and shoe polish, and poisons. If that isn’t pretty enough, just close your eyes and imagine every single thing that might fall into the category “medical waste.” The City Yards operations will not accept infectious biomedical waste or… anything explosive or radioactive. Would you like to go with me on a treasure hunt, to find the enchanting locations where infectious biomedical waste and explosives and radioactive junk go to rest in their old age? I’ll bet you don’t. By the way, whatever gunk or goo you might be looking to get rid of the City will only accept 15 gallons or 125 pounds of it. You know, per visit. So plan accordingly.
Some may argue over whether we still have a mighty engine of productivity in this country, but we most certainly have an impressive gross national output of stinking and dangerous waste.
So if the word “sustainability” causes you to think only of recycling your drinking water bottles and buying bamboo cutting boards for your kitchen, think again. We’re producing mountains of garbage every single day and we will suffocate underneath it, if we don’t ruin the climate so badly that we’ve all died of dehydration first. That our city has an office dedicated to sustainability helps us enormously with our individual output of garbage, but we still have so many larger concerns. And while we’re on it, please remember those who want to repeal the environmental protections we already have in place when you go to vote in November. Those people will not come to your door and pick up your hazardous waste. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re not too concerned with sustainability at all.