Youngsters may not believe me when I say: when I was a kid, in 1950 to take a round number, there was next to no garbage!
Well, to begin with, plastic was not yet “invented” in the forms we know it. (Could you imagine a world without plastic? There was some plastic in the house, but only for electrical gadgets that needed insulation.) Grandma sent me to buy milk, and I brought along a metal can with a handle and a lid (and on my way home I was spinning the can in the air to demonstrate that the centrifugal force was enough to keep both lid and milk in place.) Grandma cleaned the can, and after two days I was sent back to the store for more milk. No garbage. Softdrinks came in glass bottles that were reused, as were the wooden trays they came in. No garbage. Any kind of groceries we bought was delivered in paper bags or glass jars, and the bags were either folded and kept for some needs in the house, or used as tinder in the fire place, while the jars were reused. Fish came in old newspapers – that went to the fire place. No garbage. New newspapers, on the other hand, were recycled. No garbage. Canned goods came in tin cans, all right, but we used almost none. Portuguese sardines came from Portugal, in very tiny cans, that was all. (Sour herring, from north Sweden, is another matter.) Whatever stuff we bought, like in the hardware store or the dress shop, was wrapped in brown paper and tied with paper string– no cardboard boxes, no plastic. No garbage. Clothes were expensive, we did not buy them often, we were careful with them and wore them till they were worn out. As I remember they were often collected for recycling. No garbage. Grandma knitted my socks. When the holes on the heels were too big she ripped up the socks and used the yarn for knitting new socks. No garbage. Etc, etc.
I am not saying we should go back to all this, of course not, but I cannot avoid comparing this with the staggering volumes of garbage that I now see at the municipal stations for garbage recycling. Garbage management has become a project of its own. And garbage has become a raw material. But too much of it is not properly managed. We read about the “islands” in the sea of floating plastic garbage – that will not decompose. (Some industries talk about decomposable plastic, but as far as I know there is no decomposition in the factual sense, just splitting up in ever smaller particles that eventually penetrate the living cells of plants and animals and disturb the very fundamental processes of life.) Recently another subject has been brought up – that of textile waste.
Fashion lovers buy more and more clothes. The trend is clear and steady. The USA alone generates 15 million tons of textile waste per year. This a number that means nothing to me – I cannot imagine what it means, except that it is something enormous. Little Sweden consumes on average 13 kg of new clothes per person and year, which for the whole country will mean 0.13 million tons. The global average is said to be 9 kg per person and year.
Plastic is another story. I will stop here, and get back with numbers later.
The point right now is: how to handle all the garbage to reduce pollution of our environment? Given the personal experience I have described above, I really believe that, as a first step, consumption of plastic and clothes etc can be reduced, without noticeable sacrifice. Secondly, much work has already been done on recycling, and important progress has been made. I will get back on this.