The amount of trash thrown out daily across the world is a topic that has always alarmed me and kept me up at nights if I think too much about it. It is one of the elephants in the room that I tend to avoid as I interact with the people and world around me. I actively avoid discussions around sustainability and trash and such topics with other people, as it enrages me to a great extent how wasteful every individual is (me included); and as a collective group, the results are there for everyone to see : mountains of trash that we saw at the SIMS municipal recycling center (image below).
That’s 1000 tons of trash processed through just one recycling facility in New York, which constitutes only 15% of the city’s trash. The other 85% (some of which is recyclable) ends up in landfills around the world. Every other day, outside my very own apartment building, I see a near perfect appliance on the curb, waiting to be picked up for disposal. Where they actually end up going, I have no idea.
My usual response is to turn a blind eye towards this whole attitude to waste and what we call waste. Because the alternative (of taking action against it) is just extremely over-whelming, and I feel powerless. How do build a fight against the attraction towards the bright and shiny new products? How do I change the behavior of entire nations and cultures towards discarding of old/broken products? It goes against progress, to repair and reuse existing objects,to limit the production and consumption of goods, something the entire global economy is based on.
On a personal level, I try to be very careful about the things that I buy. choosing things which will last a long time; I have never thrown out any electronic product fearing where it might end up. Coming from a developing country like India, systems for proper disposal of e-waste weren’t readily available so I hoard all the electronics that I no longer use, hoping to find a use for them someday or find a responsible way to dispose. In India, I would rarely take a plastic grocery bag from the store and would never buy bottled water. Showering is not the common way to clean oneself; we would mostly use one bucket of water to take a bath and thus, limit our water consumption. Every appliance in my home is 8-10 years old; when they break down, we repair them and keep using them, until it reaches a point where repairing doesn’t make any sense financially. The one thing I felt most guilty about was driving around everywhere, mostly alone, in a normally heavy traffic city.
Since I have come to the U.S., my behavior has started to shift. I still carry a bottle of water with me everywhere, walk to most places or use public transport when I need to go far, never waste any food (mostly due to financial constraints) and switch off lights and electronic gadgets when not in use (as I did earlier). But I have started taking plastic bags from the grocery store (even though I carry a cloth bag with me everywhere), using one-time coffee cups, using paper towels and tissues instead of cloth towels and being a bit irresponsible about how I throw my trash. The visit to SIMS was enlightening in that, now I am very particular about recycling and waste disposal. Since this class started, I have tried to re-purpose a lot of the packaging trash that I generate, hoarding everything from tiny scraps of wood to cardboard boxes and trying to use paper towels minimally. It still bothers me how my behavior has changed since I moved here, just because things are more convenient.
Moving forward, I will consciously try to be more sustainable on a personal level. As a designer, trying to change the system still feels over-whelming and unattainable. I sincerely hope my education here at PoD provides with tools to bring about meaningful change.
I want to end by reminding anyone who reads this post where most of our E-waste goes, so next time we think long and hard before throwing out any gadget. Below is a video from the world’s largest E-waste dump site in Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana.
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/104059452″>The Electronic Afterlife</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/gizmogul”>Gizmogul</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>