Thursday, July 26, 2012

Waste Not, Want Not

In some ways, the modern world can trace its roots to August 1, 1955. That's when "Life" magazine published its famous article, "Throwaway Living."
The clarion call for the next half-century of consumerism was sounded. No longer did we have to -- or want to -- make do with what we had. We could just throw it away and get something new.

And corporations were eager to help us. After all, making products meant to be used once, thrown away, then bought again was a cash cow. It provided permanent consumers. We came to believe that we really could just throw stuff out and forget about it. That it was easy, natural, "American." Buy the newest gizmo and toss the year-old one into the bin. Drive through McDonald's, and 5 minutes later pitch 2 wrappers, a plastic ketchup pack, a plastic barbecue sauce pack, a greasy french-fry box, and an empty plastic cup & straw into the nearest bin.

We bought the lie that consumption had no costs.

The annual budget of Saco, Maine can be found here. It's in three parts: revenue (money coming in), capital (brand-new projects being undertaken), departmental (day-to-day running of the city). In the departmental budget, you'll find what the Department of Public Works pays for its waste-removal contracts.
$1,270,200 for FY 2012. That's only for curbside waste collection. It doesn't account for all the time, labor, and energy of cleaning up fouled gutters/streets/public spaces from blown-in trash.

That's enough to pay for:

  • The city administration's entire operating budget
  • The city's entire genl. assistance funds (emergency food, fuel, burial, medical, clothing etc.)
  • The city's voter registration services
  • The city's entire Building Maintenance operating budget
  • The city's entire Fire & Ambulance operating budget
  • The city's entire public drinking water supply
  • The city's entire Building Inspection & Zoning operating budget
  • The city's entire Planning & Economic Development operating budget
  • The city's public agencies (Meals on Wheels, trail memberships, TV, veterans' council etc.)
  • And the city's entire Parks & Recreation operating budget

Combined. And still have money left over.

That's the cost we pay for our "free" consumption.

1 comment:

  1. I think some remanants of waste not want not remain embedded in Vermont culture, particularly in farmers and many living in rural areas.
    Advertisements tell us we can have it all. We can fight this dilusion with stories that are close to us emotionally as opposed to only listing factual dire warnings.

    My Nothing to Waste folktale attempts to revisit some of the not so old Vermont attitude and traditions.