I was walking down the lane the other day and I noticed this piece of litter, looked like the melted bottom of a plastic bottle. I fumed for a bit, angry at whoever had just tossed it there, and planned to pick it up on my way back. To carry it all the way home, where I’d throw it in the garbage, and three weeks later take to the dump. And it suddenly occurred to me: why go to all that trouble just so it could be buried in some arbitrary place six miles away from here, when I could just as easily bury it here?

But it’s not so arbitrary, is it. It’s ‘away from here’, it’s not on the lane I walk on every day, it’s not in my backyard. And I realized then that when city planners started including dumps in their blueprints, we took a seriously wrong turn: with such a word, such a concept, we legitimized NIMBY. So too with words like ‘litter’ and ‘garbage’. What is that but stuff that doesn’t belong here, stuff we don’t want here, here in our back yard. We ‘throw it away’.

And where is ‘away’? It’s a piece of land bought or rented for just that purpose; a bunch of people, the city, the community, has simply pooled their money, their taxes, to hire someone to pick up and move the stuff we don’t want, from ‘here’ to ‘there’. But there’s a limited amount of land–why should some people get extra land for their garbage, for ‘disposal’? Because they can, can pay (more) for it? So? The richest isn’t necessarily the rightest. (How did they come to be able to pay more? And why is the owner selling, to the highest bidder?) Further, given the limitedness of land, that specially designated piece of land is likely to be in somebody else’s back yard. (And whose back yard is it in? In what parts of the city, on what parts of the planet, is it?)

Now that might not be so bad, but let’s go back to square one: why? Why did the people want the stuff moved in the first place? Because it’s unhealthy and/or unsightly. The stockholder mode (I own, therefore I have the right to…) is simplistic, in denial with regard to relationships, to interdependence. The stakeholder mode (I am affected by, therefore I have the right to…) is more enlightened. And since the stuff you put in your dump can deteriorate my land, my water, my air, my life, no, you don’t have the right, even though you have the money, to pay someone to move it from your back yard to mine. (Actually, it can affect me even if it stays in your backyard. Because it doesn’t really. Stay there. So you don’t even have the right to buy it, to produce it, in the first place. But I digress.)

Perhaps if there was no such thing as ‘the dump’, if we didn’t have ‘the garbage’ under the sink and a ‘waste’ basket in the back corner of the room, perhaps then we wouldn’t buy so many plastic bottles. There’s only so many you can bury. They don’t decompose. Perhaps instead, we’d buy our cola as concentrate in bottles half the size or as fizz tablets wrapped in paper. Perhaps we’d buy only reusables, only compostables. My god if we’d had to keep on our own half-acre or in our own apartment everything we’ve ever thrown out… Imagine a world in which there was no word for garbage.


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