If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

JuneFishingTripBack in early June, I went on a fishing and canoe trip with my father and our friend Tommy.  After a few too many Bud Lights and a voyage led by Captain Morgan, we got into a deep conversation on the age-old question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

This is one of those questions with a very legitimate argument on both sides.  Ultimately, it all depends on how one defines sound.  The answer is yes according to the scientific definition of sound (vibrating air molecules that move in waves).  But it would be no if you take the pragmatic approach (sound is the interpretation of these vibrations).

By the end of our debate, we agreed to disagree.  I stood strong with the pragmatic definition, Tommy the scientific one, and my dad split somewhere down the middle.

You may be wondering why I chose to tell this story.  The answer is because I think it relates to an important issue that we face in our world and especially the United States.  If something is out of sight and out of mind, does that mean it is out of existence?

Anyone who knows me well can probably guess that the something I am referring to is trash.

Image Courtesy of the SOAP Group
Image Courtesy of the SOAP Group

Each American generates on average 4.6 lbs of trash per day.  That is over 1600 lbs per year!  What happens to most of that trash?  We put it out on the curb, a truck picks it up, and it “goes away.”  Out of sight, out of mind.  But here is a little secret; it does not disappear.  We either bury it in a landfill, or burn it in an incinerator. In a landfill, it will degrade into its chemical or biological components, many of which are very toxic.  These toxins will eventually leach into the water stream. Or trash might be incinerated. In that case its harmful chemicals and pollutants would be released directly into the air. Why die a slow death, right?  Check out this story in the NY Times for some more eye opening information.

When you throw something away, it might seem to be out of sight, making it out of mind, but it is far from out of existence.  That battery you threw away will come back to visit, unfortunately, you just won’t see it.

I do not want to be too doom and gloom here, so let’s end on a positive note.  We are making progress.  Although there is still a lot of room for improvement, the recycling and composting rate for municipal solid waste is at its highest level ever of 32.1%.  Plus, people are starting to take things into their own hands to change behavior.  Something as simple as this set-up at the Bay Area Discovery Museum might just create enough of a pause by reminding people that trash gets buried.

If you are looking for a few simple steps you can take, I recommend these.

  1. Buy the right quantity for your household with the least amount of packaging. How about buying that large container of yogurt instead of the single serve containers, and dish it out into a reusable container to take to school or work.
  2. Find new uses for things you typically trash or recycle.  For example, coffee grounds make a fun body scrub 1-2x per week and great food for your plants on other days.
  3. Start composting.  If you do not have space for an outdoor composter or are squeamish about indoor worm composting, search Find a Composter for a facility to drop off your compostable material.
  4. Recycle what you can and if it is available in your area, sign-up for RecycleBank to get rewards for your good behavior.  If it is not available in your area, encourage your municipal leaders to join the program.

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2 responses to “If a Tree Falls in the Forest…

  1. Yes!!! I’ve been having a lot of conversations these days about the general pattern of excess and wastefulness (in the world in general but in our country in particular). Props to you for some of these tips on how to be a more conscientious consumer. I’d add in 5. Drink tap water when possible. and 6. Bring your own reusable bags to the market. (I heard that somewhere in Africa — was it Ghana? — that they don’t even have plastic bags available at the market. I know that some stores give you a nickel back for each bag of your own you bring for your groceries, but I’ve heard rumors of them starting to charge a nickel for every plastic bag they give you. True, it’s small change, but perhaps a sign that the tide is turning….) :)

  2. Thanks Ibti! Great additions.

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