Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Developing an ethic of trash

This project has so far tried to understand the reasons we accept and condone trash creation. I have tried to describe what it might take to create a paradigm shift in how we relate to people if trash creation was not an option. A problem such as trash is created based on where we define our "center of the universe." What is it we value? Do we value our time over others' time? Do we value our lives over the lives of other creatures? Do we value our lives over the lives of mountains, watersheds and the atmosphere? Do we value our wants over the wants and needs of others? What is evident to me, which may be fairly obvious, is that as with most environmental problems, trash is a problem of anthropocentrism. As soon as we take a step back and look at how we have conducted ourselves, we will realise that our anthropocentrism has led to a lack of respect for things that we deem "extraneous" to our daily activities. Why care about the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch when you have a job, that although is extremely boring, is paying to keep the fridge stocked with food? I know everyone says that of course we think only about ourselves in our day to day lives. But creating trash seems like the one tangible (visually, and in smell) environmentally damaging thing that we do daily and everywhere near and dear to our places of living, working and being human. We store trash in our homes, garages and backyards. There are trash cans on the corners of streets, overflowing with double-cupped Starbucks cups and plastic wrappers. Yet our valuations of efficiency, convenience and life deem trash creation legitimate and almost necessary.

But this is how the "industrialised" and "developed" countries conduct themselves. How about "underdeveloped," "Third World," "developing" countries? What must they be going through? Well, let's take the example of Tuvalu, the paradise-like island nation in the Pacific. Tuvalu is a nation that may not exist in a few years, because of rising sea levels due to you know what. But apparently, another environmental disaster seems like it will beat our rising levels - trash. seems like they are having the same problems that we in the West are having. I just came across an article from Radio New Zealand International saying the following about Tuvalu: "Discarded waste is strewn everywhere: plastic, metal, old appliances, rusted out cars, fridges." If I am reading this very recent article correctly, their drive to have the "luxuries" that the West has - plastics, appliances, and cars is what may result in their demise. (Why would people need cars on an island of 10 square miles?) So it is indeed a Western-derived ethic of anthropocentrism that leads to trash. I can attest to the fact that the amount of trash in India has increased (geometrically? exponentially?) in the past 10 years, and this has coincided with a marked Westernisation of India and its culture, customs and mindsets.

The one way we can adequately address the issue of trash is by redefining the "center of our universe," not by building more incinerators that pollute our air and water, not by digging more landfills. We must ask the question - What is it that we stand for?

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