Away

Several years ago while I was still working at Dreyer’s, I was talking to a woman on the verge of retirement. We were discussing recycling and how in Oakland you can recycle practically anything. I lamented that in my town there was nowhere to recycle things like dry cleaning bags or bread bags. She said, every so helpfully, “Why don’t you just throw them away?”

Recently I was working on a project with someone, and they said, “When we are done with this paper, we can just throw it away.”

“Just throw it away”. It’s such a common phrase in our vernacular. It’s like “How are you?” When was the last time you asked that question of someone and actually expected an answer besides “Okay” or “Good”? We answer that question without thinking about it. We say “I’ll just throw it away” without thinking about what we are saying.

The thing about throwing something away is that there is no such thing as away. AWAY isn’t nothing. AWAY isn’t gone. AWAY doesn’t mean it has disappeared. AWAY only means “away from me.” It doesn’t mean “away from we.” What we discard still exists, just not in our line of sight. It is in a landfill, or an incinerator, or by the side of the freeway, or blowing in the wind, or in the Pacific Gyre (i.e. the Pacific Trash Vortex), now estimated at twice the size of the United States. How’s that for a tasty thought?

Pacific Gyre, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex

Pacific Gyre, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex

Can I stop buying or using anything that doesn’t go in the trash?
Could I do it for a week? Or even a day?
Would someone from a poor country think of what I am throwing away as still having value?
Has this “trash” served the longest, most productive, exhaustive life possible? Can I do something else with it?

Maybe.

We buy a new towel. We use it for a few years, drying ourselves off after a shower. It gets ratty. Ratty, yes, but is it done? How about we tear it into small pieces for dust rags, then even smaller to use in place of cotton balls? And then… when it’s paper thin, and there is no conceivable purpose… rip ‘em into tiny strips and put them in the back yard.

The birds will love it.

I want to start thinking about the ENTIRE life of a product – not just the percentage of it’s life that it is with me. Can I keep it longer? Can I pass it along in a non-garbage producing way?

I’m going to try.

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