A M E R I C A N W A S T E . © Athena Tacha 2009 . During the 1930s Depression, Americans lacked jobs and even food. But after WWII, with fast developing technology and affluence, consumerism exploded, starting a tremendous proliferation of waste. .
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© Athena Tacha 2009
Disregard for the natural environment went along with prosperity:
more and faster highways, with huge cars and
trucks guzzling cheap gasoline and emitting pollution in the atmosphere and ground water. Who wanted public transportation or trains?
And why not two or more cars,
one for each family member,
with a new car every year,
dumping the old one and
filling the countryside with junkyards?
Since the 1980s, computers, cell phones, ipods and endless other electronic gadgets are purchased and discarded in vast quantities – not to mention the billions of CDs and DVDs that don’t disintegrate and will pollute the Earth forever.
Some 15% of American waste is incinerated (with dubious emissions), and less than 20% is supposedly recycled. The rest is buried in landfills or just dumped illegally.
But it takes energy, labor and money to make new products from recycled ones. It’s much simpler
to cut down trees for new lumber or for the incredible amount of paper used, and wasted, daily.
The food industry consumes much of them:
Stores sell prepared foods, vegetables, fruit and water in plastic containers.
Plastic cutlery, glasses and plates prevail in most cheap restaurants and cafeterias – and now even on airplanes. (If not plastic, it’s styrofoam or paper.)
The recent chic is plastic or surgical gloves worn by food store employees and airplane stewardesses!
In theory boxes and paper can be recycled, but what about the endless foam peanuts and bubblewrap, styrofoam packaging, miles of plastic tape, and trillions of plastic bags?
New Yorkers generate 26,000 tons of trash per day, some of it still going to the infamous Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.
Every New York corner displays mountains of bagged garbage almost nightly – but as many bags adorn illegally the countryside.
Fish and other ocean life ingest our trash and chemicals,
and many die trapped by our discards.
But there is no satisfactory solution for the 279 million tons of hazardous, toxic or radioactive waste –
half of it “wastewater managed in treatment units.”
With Yucca Mountain, NV, contested, 60,000 cubic meters of radioactive nuclear waste have been buried the last decade in a Carlsbad, NM, repository. Will it be secure from earthquakes and leakage?
True, an average car trip to the library uses 4,500 times the energy of a Google search
(0.2 grams of CO2), while a page of newsprint consumes 350 times more energy.
Yet from 2000 to 2005, the total electricity used by data centers in America has doubled, and in 2009 data centers worldwide consume annually more energy than all of Sweden.
As with nuclear energy, the U.S. has exported a new “product,” and waste,
to the entire world and the future…
Images mainly from Google and the Wikipedia
(L.A. highways, photo Kalavinca; New York trash bags, photo A. Tacha)
Not a fish story – or is it?
In 1986, the city of Philadelphia contracted with a waste-disposal firm to get rid of 28 million pounds of toxic ash from the city's municipal and industrial incinerators. The disposal firm, in turn contracted the Khian Sea's ship owner to dispose of the ash, which contained such toxics as aluminum, arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc and dioxins.
After wandering the Caribbean for 18 months in search of a disposal site, the Khian Sea travelled across the Atlantic. In November 1988, two years after it left Philadelphia, the ship showed up in Singapore, holds empty, its cargo dumped somewhere en route. (The National Voter, Feb. 1989, p. 5)