Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Conspicuous Consumption... and Disposal

Thousands of people, their cars and trucks loaded down with all sorts of toxic materials, lined up this weekend in a fabulous display of conspicuous consumption -- the local "Household Hazardous Waste Roundup."



As part of my family's pre-Passover clean-up, this past Saturday morning I decided to finally rid our garage of a few items that had been stacking up with no safe method of disposal: an old paint can filled with used paint thinner and turpentine and a Macintosh Quadra from the mid-1990s. Here's the sort of pile that my computer ended up in:



There are plenty more examples of the enormous amount of disposable non-disposables, but let's first experience the event (if you're just here to see the big piles of junk, feel free to scroll down).

The roundup was scheduled to start at 9 am, but there were people lined up in their cars outside the community college parking lot at 7:30 -- anxious, no doubt, to avoid to the long lines of later in the day (which I had to endure). By 10 am, one thousand people had already been and gone, driving through the makeshift switchback lanes, set up in some sort of automobile amusement park-like line. By the end of the day, more than three thousand people would have taken advantage of this service.

The structure of the event was very simple. After making one's way through the back-and-forth froth, drivers pulled up into what I am calling "the gauntlet," where workers waited patiently, albeit menacingly.



This was an uncomfortable time for me; those white haz-mat suits just seem to bode ill no matter what the setting -- not necessarily in a "potential danger from chemical spills" sort of way; possibly in a "potential danger from deranged serial killer" sort of way.



Once in place, we drivers cut our engines and sat tight as the workers unloaded truck beds, back seats, and trailers in an attempt to quickly strip our vehicles of all that we carried.



Once the materials were downloaded, and as we drivers restarted our engines, a first-pass sorter quickly sorted the anti-freeze, asbestos, pesticide and fertilizer; the computer monitors, hard drive, televisions, and microwaves; the mercury thermometers, shoe polish, fax machines, and brake fluid.



This first pass was only the most minimal of involvement, and so the piles adjacent to the gauntlet were still mostly undifferentiated.



My wife said the following picture was one of her favorites, because of the accidental view of our valley in the background:



Another set of workers was stationed behind the initial screeners; their job was to more thoughtfully assess the nature of the discarded offal, and to start creating more focused groupings.



After this sorting, and after a lot of grunting and sweating, there remained nicely stacked groups of specific items -- a toxi-philic anal-retentive wet dream. Chemicals of all sorts, in tight little drums and cans (those last five words are sure to wind up as some perv's search string):



Flat screen technology made this pile of outdated computer monitors possible:



Old television sets? You are the weakest link!



You'd better not pout; I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming... to an end:



Last stop for all these unwanted, used up, dangerous materials is the c-container, which will get lost in transit to an official dumping site and one day turn up in an empty field somewhere:



And now, briefly, a little commentary (after all, it would hardly be Toner Mishap without some ranting, right?). I have very little to add to the message of these pictures; after all, it seems obvious to me that this kind of quickie consumption and disposal is not going to do our world any good.

I admit to the same obsession with new stuff -- one of those old computers is, as I admitted, mine. But we have a television from the early 1990s that still works fine; our microwave came with the house; our washer and dryer are hand-me-downs from the in-laws. Yeah, we go through computers every couple of years, but our recycling bin is full every week with glass and newspaper, which I defiantly (in spite of that old Dilbert bit in which the cleaning staff dumps trash and recycling into the same container at the end of every day) believe is on its way to being refashioned into new versions of itself.

I'm not sure we can overcome our desire to constantly replace the old with the new -- I'm not even sure I want to overcome it. If the economy (national and personal) could sustain it, I would much prefer to constantly have new stuff all the time and just blast the toxic leftovers into the sun, to be wholly consumed in a cleansing nuclear reaction and never to grace our planet again. But until that time, we're going to keep seeing the middle and upper classes going through goods like there's no poverty problem...



... and the rest of the world wondering why they can't get a computer to help their kids perform better in school or a microwave to simplify food production in their house.

In the meantime, if you live in the greater Los Angeles area and you need to get rid of some stuff that you know can't go into your trash can, call 888-CLEAN-LA and find out where and when you can get rid of it properly and safely.

27 comments:

On The Mark said...

Nice report, B2. An old colleague of mine runs the communications program for these drop-off events. I agree with your rant. If some of my friends in Russia saw these photos they'd be stunned and probably sick to their stomachs. For example, if they even have a television, it's 13" and a good 20 years old. They'd see those piles as opportunities.

Anonymous said...

First, we bought a new washer and dryer about 4 years ago.

Second, you miss the point of the hazmat roundup, which is that people are learning to save their motor oil and paint thiner for the roundup and not just dumping it down the drain or into the gutter.

And third, perhaps some of the blame goes on manufacturers who make products that will break and don't make replacement parts ensuring that you will have to buy a new one. That wahser we had was over 20 years old and at it's yearly checkup by Sears the repairman always told me that the ones being sold today don't last nearly as long as the old ones did.

B2 said...

Just occurred to me -- if you take the letters in "hazmat" and screw with them a little (and add some others) you can turn this event into an even better pre-Passover collection: the chametz roundup!

On The Mark said...

Yikes, B2. Looks like you'd better bring home some flowers tonight!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what happens to those computers and monitors? There are several groups (such as Digital Aid) who would love to send them to developing countries. Digital Aid has some folks in LA who could recieve much of that equipment.

Anonymous said...

Don't worry dude, the way things are going there will soon be 2 classe : have and have not.

Anonymous said...

People are so spoiled. Spoiled spoiled spoiled. I saw enough equipment in those pictures to cobble together a hundred slackware boxes to serve as firewalls, proxies, http servers, mail servers or the like.
Consume, discard, consume, discard, consume, discard, consume, discard, consume, discard, consume, discard, consume, discard, rinse, repeat.

Anonymous said...

Cripes, is this stuff going to be recycled, or is it headed for landfill?

Anonymous said...

i heartily second the "spoiled" comment, with a twist.

"we don't know the value of water until the well is dry."

though from an economic perspective, the rapid consumption cycle is precisely why we can now afford $300 P4 3GHz walmart computers.

but what i find staggering is the insufficient market competition from others to value these merely OLD computers as MORE than garbage. a little less than 50% of american households still don't have a computer, and i'm sure figures are closer to 80% of homes have children who could use a computer of their own (leaving videogames to the consoles).

where the hell are all the dumpster-diver nerds who would foam at the mouth for this opportunity?

or maybe we should all advertise our own local "computer recycling" and have people do the leg work to drop off old computers on our doorsteps to be harvested and resold as firewalls, mail servers, and introductory linux workstations for youngsters!

Anonymous said...

if you live in the SF bay area, check out the Computer Recycling Center (www.crc.org).

they take computers and all sorts of computer related stuff, and fix them up for schools, non-profits, and the like.

i just found out about it recently, and its certainly a better fate than an incinerator (or whatever they generally do with toxic stuff like computers)

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with consumption?

There is a perception that people who have things are somehow wrong. This class envy is an ideal perpetrated by liberals in an effort to pander to people who have been slackers their entire lives and thus keep liberals in political power.

When I was young I was a good kid, did what I was told, behaved.

In high school, I was the guy that paid attention in class, made decisions not to get involved with drugs, alcohol, or other destructive behaviors.

Then I worked my butt off and paid my own way through college, I now have a Masters Degree in Information Sciences.

I now make $150K+ a year.

I didn't have any special legs up in life, I grew up in a divorced home, we had just enough money to get by, but I made decisions that allowed me to now live a nice life, if the people that didn't make these type of decisions as a consequence need to deal with my trash then so be it.

Another poster said that eventually there will be two classes "The haves and the have nots" I choose to be in "The haves" and everyone of us can be in that group, it's all based on how bad you want to be there.

Oh and as for all the trash, there's a way to deal with it, I urge you to read up on the following:

http://www.kantor.com/useful/thermo.shtml

42 said...

no, you make $150,000/yr RIGHT NOW which could change tomorrow. from the tone of your post I bet your spend is pretty close to that as well. when your job disappears in a re-org, hope you remembered to save some of that loot.

The Misanthrope said...

David, I agree with you. Your money is ephemeral unless you are piling it away and not consuming, but even then the price of everything is going up and your $150k is meaning less and less.

Also, everyone who is not as talented as you or made a wrong decision should suffer?

Anonymous said...

Oh trust me I save! You can consume but do it frugally. Instead of a Mercedes or Lexus, get the Chrysler.

Most of my salary goes to a 401K.

As for others suffering because of bad decisions, I shed no tears. Sorry you made your bed now lay in it. There is no bad situation you can't get yourself out of through hard work. If it takes working 3 jobs (like I did in college) the so be it. The only thing that holds anyone back in the country is how lazy they choose to be.

Now don't get me wrong I don't care to see trash piling up anymore then anyone else, but I'm not going to stop consuming because I'm worried about how much trash I produce. In my previous comment I noted there are ways around mounds of trash piling up. I think the only reason we haven't implemented thermodepolymerization is because of pressure from mostly foreign owned oil producers, which is another issue all together (this country is WAY to beholden to outside energy producers).

Don't be afraid to be rich, I know we like to punish success in this country, but really don't be embarassed to have more then your neighbor.

Which doesn't mean charity is wrong either. If you have an old computer and it could go to someone who could use it then by all means give it to them, but you'll find alot of the trash you see in those pictures even poor people don't want.

FatDave said...

You know, it's possible to be rich and not be an asshole, asshole.

The Misanthrope said...

Fatdave, we eagerly encourage debate, but we do discourage the name calling.

Anonymous has a point, However, I do think one can be rich and compassionate, unlike Bush and his administration.

Anonymous said...

Cripes... the Bush Administration... Where did that come from? That must be the new way to end a statement. Like what "You know what I mean?" or "Word." or "Have a nice day." used to do.
Now it's "At least he doesn't skin baby seals alive... like the Bush Administration." or, "It says it's gonna rain tomorrow..... Must be a secret plot by Karl Rove to steal our brains and use them in Haliburton laboratories to make crude oil to soak seagulls in so their beaks are slippery enough to easily skin baby seals alive.... Bushitler has got to go now!"

Or something like that.

You know what I mean?

FatDave said...

Fatdave, we eagerly encourage debate, but we do discourage the name calling.

I know, I shouldn't have said that. It was childish. My appologies to misanthrope, anonymous, and anyone else I may have offended.

The Misanthrope said...

Siklilpig, you have a point. I think that is an excellent way to end conversations. We try to help the poor, and the working class, unlike the Bush administration.

We are against drilling in Alaska, changing Social Security into a stock market crap shoot, shipping prisoners to foreign countries to be tortured, using gay marriages and comatose patients to further agendas like the Bush administration. I could go on, but you get the point.

The Misanthrope said...

Fatdave, no worries.

Anonymous said...

Misanthrope, I resepect your opinion as well as the opinions of anyone who is intelligent and proactive enough to be informed. I've just been seeing a trend lately to interject a slam against the Bush administration into statements that have really nothing to do with the administration. I find it amusing, really. I see things along the lines of "I think Burnt Sienna is Crayola's highest quality and most durable color. If it weren't for Burnt Sienna, I wouldn't have this fabulous graphic design job in Manhattan... which will be buried under a mountain of skinned baby seal carcasses because of the Bush Administration."
Speaking of which, check out this site... it makes me laugh almost every day:
http://blamebush.typepad.com/
Cheers!

The Misanthrope said...

siklilpig, thanks for the tip on the site. I briefly checked it out and I'll go visit over the weekend to read it more closely.

Anonymous said...

Fatdave - No worries apology accepted.

Beyond that though you touch on an something interesting about affluence. A lot of people who see others that are successful and if those people aren't contrite about their wealth the suddenly they're @$$holes.

With wealth comes freedom, freedom to make decisions that others may not have luxury of making, sometimes those decisions impact others. Hopefully they do so in a positive manner, but on the flip-side you can't curtail your own life simply because someone else may be put off, jealous, or otherwise affected by it.

Case in point: I bought some land which had a nice view. The person who owned the land behind me fought my building permit every step of the way because he didn't want me to block his view. Now initially I tried to work with the guy told him let's sit down and figure out where I could build that wouldn't block his view, he was steadfast against it and decided to get the courts involved. To make a long story short the judge ended up ruling in my favor and I got my building permit, but I kind of felt bad about it, until a friend at a club I'm part of made the following statement "You made every effort to work with this guy If the guy wanted the view so much he could have bought the land himself, don't lose any sleep over it" Which really hit home, and made me think, don't be afraid to spend your money no matter how upset it makes someone. If you make an honest attempt to be a good neighbor and someone else still has an issue with it then well tough, someone somewhere will always have a problem with your decisions or the fact you might have more money then them.

The Misanthrope said...

Seriously, you sound like a good neighbor and a decent person. I wish you were my neighbor (as long as you don't have noisy dogs).

Anonymous said...

LoL Thanks Minth! No dog, just a cat, that looks at me like he owns the place whenever I come home.

I do try to be a nice neighbor, I let people use the pool in the summer, I have a huge superbowl party every year and invite all the neighbors. Beer is always cold in the summer and the view of the green mountains is SPECTACULAR :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Misanthrope... there need to be more people like you in this world. Unfortunately, there are too many people who just insist on being malcontent. When their problems are solved, they either complain about the solution, or come up with new things to be upset about. I know people who seem to base their lives on this and who would feel lost without it. So all you can do is try to help and work with the people around you, and if they don't respond well then that is, sorry to say, their problem. At least you tried to do the right thing, and that speaks volumes about what kind of a person you are.

Arizona foreclosures said...

With wealth comes freedom, freedom to make decisions that others may not have luxury of making, sometimes those decisions impact others. Hopefully they do so in a positive manner, but on the flip-side you can't curtail your own life simply because someone else may be put off, jealous, or otherwise affected by it. Trash Disposal