It Ain’t Easy Being Green
(This is the first post on the blog written by Mr. Kiwi, enjoy!)
Remember Oscar the Grouch?
Well, I really liked Oscar the Grouch. I wanted to grow up to be a garbageman (I was three at the time. It seemed like a promising career option and came with unrestricted access to trash.). If only I hadn’t become an engineer…
I don’t really remember any specific message from Oscar about garbage, but I feel like I’ve always kept that “one man’s trash is another’s treasure” idea pretty close to heart. I also can’t remember the first time I looked through someone’s trash and kept something. My guess is my parents were involved on some level.
I do remember finding things in the trash, then taking them home and taking them apart to see how they worked (Or didn’t. This is trash, after all). It was really cool to learn hands-on how things work, like the mechanical assembly of the rotating brushes in the front of a vacuum cleaner. Maybe I’d be able to put it back together or get it fixed. Maybe I couldn’t (but there’s youtube to help). Or perhaps I could scavenge a switch or hinge or something for a different project. The stakes are pretty low with trash.
There’s also something deeply satisfying to me about finding another use for something that was on its way to be buried in a landfill to, well, sit there (hopefully) undisturbed for a few hundred years. And I don’t mean to get all hippy-preachy, but it seems important to me to try to lessen my environmental burden. If you want to read about the environmental impact of garbage check out this book.
People throw away so much stuff. I don’t feel like I can stress appropriately with text. I live in a university town and dumpster diving during college move out has become an annual tradition. As hard as universities work to made donating dorm room cast-offs easier, inevitably most of the stuff ends up in the dumpster.
In 2013 the average American produced 4.4 pounds of trash each day (https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/web/html/). So the zero waste movement has a lot of room for growth.
Now, maybe you’re judging. You think that digging through the trash is gross or weird or you have some other ill-defined opposition to it. Normally I worry about what people think of me. But, not when it comes to trash. I seriously find cash, typically US currency, both coins and bills, every year (every single year). It’s usually not a whole lot of money, but think about that for a minute:
Someone decided that the easiest way to deal with this money was to throw it in the trash. Rather than exchange the money for goods and services… anywhere, right? It would just be better to just throw it away. So when some people think that way it’s a lot less surprising to me to find the mini-fridge, 52” flat panel TV, PS2 and games, furniture, and other stuff from going out dumpster diving for a couple evenings this year. We’ve sold a bunch of it on Craigslist, donated a bunch, and now I have all the dorm room essentials in my home office!
I still tinker, too. There are all kinds of electrical goodies inside of home appliances, and I’ve started scavenging them when I see them (assuming I’d have a use for them). Someday I’ll write a post about an example. Anyway, it’s a really fun creative outlet and a great (cough, cough) reason to learn about stuff like the Hall Effect and pretend you are in science class again (but just the fun parts, for us engineers it was all fun).
I guess I’ve squandered my prime garbagemanning years learning about math, science, and engineering, but it seems like it was a worthwhile trade. But I think I’ll always love something about dumpster diving. There’s the thrill and the surprise of the different (sometimes weird) stuff you find, that the constraints of limiting yourself to using trash in projects creates a fun learning environment, and I get pretty good self-sufficient environmentalist warm fuzzies whenever I find a great use for something I rescued from a landfill.
I guess it’s something I’d want to teach my (future) kids, too. So go out, peek in the dumpster, maybe you’ll find something worth saving! Maybe it really isn’t that hard being green. Or don’t, I know this is a step beyond frugal and outside of most people’s comfort zone.