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.