Environmental overload

Published 7:51 am Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First, it was cans and bottles. Had to be about 20 years ago, maybe longer, when the district council types brought to the house, unannounced, blue plastic bins for the recyclables. I still have mine. I recycle. In fact, I am very thorough about it, and I often wonder if somebody is sitting on a patio chair made out of one of our plastic milk jugs.

Yes, I bristled at first. The uninvited bin was presumptuous, but I thought, well, it makes sense to turn cans and bottles into new cans and bottles. And when paper and plastic got added to the mix, I thought that made sense, too.

I didn’t know where we were headed.

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On Friday morning, early, an errand had me at the corner of Fairview and Goodrich avenues. I saw a woman on a bicycle contraption that looked like an ice cream wagon but, upon second glance, was some sort of rig for collecting trash. On the side of the box attached to the bicycle were the words “We are making dirt, not waste.” I’m paraphrasing. I don’t remember exactly what the wording was. The bicyclist wore the yellow safety vest and had the tight shorts on, and she seemed to be referencing a clipboard.

She, it turns out, is a bicycling compost collector, a public job that might be coveted years down the road. Perhaps children can study that in the schools along with their other socialization disciplines. A fellow who lives in the Mac-Groveland neighborhood informed me of the situation.

Under a new experimental program, 600 families in Mac-Groveland have been given the opportunity to sign up for composting. In addition to recycling the usual stuff, I guess people are supposed to also compost everything — eggshells, paper towels, banana skins, the works.

In other words, keep a box of decomposing crud in your house all week and then somebody will pick it up, either by truck or, so preciously, by that bicycle contraption that looks like an ice cream wagon. A third option allows people to take the stuff to a composting site.

If I didn’t know where we were headed 20 or so years ago, I know now.

We are headed into the past, rushing headlong and furiously. The children who grew up hectoring their parents about smoking are now the parents of children who are expected to make their own dirt. It is advertised as resourceful and ubiquitously green, but it smacks of a kind of collective shamefulness that we are, by our very existence, wasteful and gluttonous and that somehow we need to be reined in.

The once-great American lifestyle — it was the inventiveness of St. Paul’s Gar Wood that resulted in the hydraulics that are featured on the modern trash-collecting truck — has been placed on trial and found guilty. To redeem ourselves, we need to make soil out of our food scraps. And the hell with Gar Wood’s hydraulics. Those big trucks make too much noise.

It is of a piece, this new “opportunity.” The picture won’t be complete until we are at last without automobiles, our lights are dark, our thermostats chilled, our gardens communal, our bags reusable, our lawns disappeared for the delusion of prairie naturalness, our backyard chickens laying eggs to be shared by the community.