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What Garbage reveals about you!

A look inside your own trashcan will reveal much about the way you live
and about a growing problem in Western society.
Here's what you can do about it.


YOU CAN learn a great deal about a society by studying its garbage.

In fact, an entire science is devoted to that very endeavor — archaeology.

Archaeologists dig through the trash and debris of ancient civilizations. By analyzing the refuse and rubble of antiquity they gain valuable insights into past societies.

The same techniques can be employed in the study of society today.

Garbage is the product of our way of life. It is a mirror of society. It can tell us much about the way we live. And the story it tells is a shocking commentary on modern, affluent Western society!


The Effluence of Affluence

The city dump probably has more to tell us about our modern civilization than any library or museum.

Some high school instructors have begun organizing field trips for their students to local dumping grounds. Armed with picks and shovels, the students examine for themselves the cast-off effluence of our affluent society — and the ecological consequences of it.

Even some universities are now offering classes in "garbology," the study of garbage. One professor describes garbology as "applied archaeology" — using archaeological techniques to solve a growing problem in contemporary society.

Students sort meticulously through people's trash, listing in notebooks what they find and then analyzing the data and writing reports. They operate on the premise that a person, in a sense, is what he throws away. It is, of course, not really necessary to make an unpleasant and possibly hazardous trip to the local dump or landfill to make such inquiries. One can accomplish the same objective closer to home.

In fact, at home!

You can become a household archaeologist and "excavate" your own trashcans. What you discover may surprise you!


I Dig At Home

The author recently conducted an "excavation" of his own kitchen waste basket. The findings were enlightening.

A trash can is, in essence, a miniature tell. "Tell" is an archaeological term used to designate a raised mound composed of the remains of successive settlements, marking the site of an ancient town.

In early times, when a village or town was destroyed by manmade or natural causes, the rubble and debris was simply leveled off and new buildings erected on top. This procedure was repeated many times through history, creating a multileveled mound of waste and debris. Archaeologists dig down through these various levels, carefully analyzing the remains in each one.

In like manner, household garbage forms levels in the trash can. One layer of garbage is compacted down onto the layer below it. The older garbage is on the bottom; the more recent garbage is nearer the top. An excavation of your own trashcan would thus yield a record of the past few days of your household history.


Into the Unknown

No one likes to think about garbage. Most of us pay little attention to our trash. We automatically toss waste and debris into the can without giving it a second thought.

To most of us, therefore, the diversity of the contents of our trash cans would probably come as a shock and a surprise.

In lieu of the final "field report" on my own household "dig," a partial list of "finds" follows here:

• 5 chicken bones

• 2 used envelopes

• 1 empty soft drink can

• shells of four eggs

• 2 wilted lettuce leaves

• orange peels

• 2 apple cores

• 1 broken drinking glass

• 1 used light bulb

• 4 used paper towels

• assorted pieces of junk mail

• 1 cardboard egg carton

• 3 plastic bags (from supermarket)

• 1 empty laundry detergent box

• 1 toothpaste box

• numerous scraps of cellophane wrapping

• 1 empty salad oil bottle

• 2 disposable paper cups

• 2 used tea bags

• 1 candy bar wrapper

• 1 soup can

• newspaper classified ads

• 1 eight-inch piece of string

• coffee grounds

• 1 used scouring pad

Your own "excavation" would probably produce similar "finds," with some variations depending on your personal life-style, buying habits and dietary inclinations.

The point of this exercise is simply to demonstrate that few of us are really aware of how we live because we are not aware of what we are throwing away.

Most of us think of garbage only when it begins to accumulate and needs to be taken out. Once the sanitation worker removes it from the premises, it is of no further concern to us. "Out of sight, out of mind," as the saying goes.

Yet sorting through your garbage can make you more aware of what you buy, what you throw away — and what you waste!


Millions of Tons

What is this thing called trash?

Household trash and garbage consists primarily of uneaten food and other organic materials (such as chicken bones and orange peels), broken items and things we no longer want, packaging (beer and soda cans, baby food jars, tin cans, boxes, cellophane) and paper products (paper towels, paper napkins, paper plates, paper cups).

Beyond the home, trash and garbage includes industrial debris, agricultural wastes, construction remains and debris, junked machinery, automobile hulks, old tires and so on.

No society in all of history has produced as much garbage as modern Western society — and most glaringly the United States! In fact, the United States throws away more than many other societies produce!

In California's Los Angeles County alone, some 70 million pounds of solid waste is produced each day — some 10 pounds per person! Statistics vary widely, but it can be safely said that Americans throw away hundreds of millions of tons of garbage every year! According to EEC figures, European households throw away 90 million tons of waste every year, and the amount is growing.


Where Does It All Go?

During the Middle Ages, people simply hurled their garbage from upper-story windows into the streets, and let it wash down the gutters at the whims of the rains.

Today, in the Western world, more than 95 percent of our solid waste is disposed of in one of three ways: in open dumps, in sanitary landfills or by burning in incinerators.

The open dump has been with us for centuries. In rural areas it is still the norm. Its well-known drawbacks are legion. It is a breeding place for rats, flies and other insects and vermin. It stinks. It is an eyesore. It is a fire and health hazard. It pollutes streams and ground water.

The sanitary landfill is simply an open dump in an arroyo, canyon, pit or valley covered over by a thin layer of dirt after each day's dumping. Trash is thus sandwiched between layers of earth fill. Though landfills avoid some of the problems of open dumps, they still often pose serious water pollution problems and generate offensive odors.

Moreover, sites officially considered to be "sanitary landfills" are at times inadequately tended and become little more than dumps with a fancy name.

The majority of municipal incinerator facilities are also inadequate. Most do not have the proper air pollution control equipment. Consequently, they simply change a solid waste problem into an air pollution problem!

Despite laws designed to prevent it, much human and industrial waste continues to be dumped into river systems — killing fish and rendering the water unusable for drinking and irrigation.

Thus, the great bulk of our trash and garbage is disposed of on our land, in our streams and oceans and, through burning, in our atmosphere.