Our society promotes waste

By By Ryan Shattuck

By Ryan Shattuck

The following is a true story about a toilet. Any attempts to engage the reader using “crass potty humor” are intentional, but are not to be shared in mixed company.

I used a public toilet a few days ago. I won’t mention where this particular toilet is located to protect the privacy of the individual who occupied the toilet before me (in addition to not actually knowing the identity of the toilet-using individual). Needless to say, when I approached the aforementioned toilet, I found that it was, in fact, filled with enough toilet paper to choke a horse — assuming a horse, for whatever odd reason, chose to eat a lot of toilet paper. Fortunately, there was a toilet plunger to the side of this toilet. Toilet was plunged, toilet paper (etc.) was flushed, and all was right in the world. It was at this point that I asked myself:

Why do some people use so much toilet paper?

Everyone’s been familiar with recycling for decades. The word “recycling” is older than Phyllis Diller, who, as it turns out, is nearly ready to be recycled herself. Many people over the years have trained us how to recycle. Our freshman roommates taught us to not throw away glass bottles but to stack them in our window.

Lagoon taught us to not throw away Coke cans but to bring them in to save 74 cents. Al Gore taught us to not throw away our votes on Ralph Nader but to buy his PowerPoint on DVD years later. Everyone’s familiar with recycling. What if, however, we didn’t have as much to recycle? What if we didn’t waste as much in the first place?

Not much is actually said about consumer waste. It’s often recommended that the public reuse and recycle. To suggest, though, that the public actually cut back on consumer waste is to be accused of being just a magenta-shade away from being a communist. “Consuming and wasting is our American God-given right!” we proudly proclaim.

Proposing that the public cut back on consumer waste won’t win a politician votes. It won’t give a businessman box seats at a Jazz game, and it won’t award Main Street USA a lucrative deal to build Wal-Mart in its backyard. This utter disregard for any sense of self-control when it comes to consumer waste is a battle cry drifting through the air. In fact, if one holds up an empty plastic cup from Taco Bell to one’s ear and faces the wind, a whisper can almost be heard:

“Indulge, gratify and spoil! Take what you will, it will all be reused in the end! Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we can probably recycle our crap (or not, the choice is yours)!”

Everyone knows the United States is No. 1 in the world — whether we be No. 1 in patriotic independence and civil freedoms or No. 1 in reality shows featuring dancing Joey Fatone. Sadly, the United States also leads the world in most trash produced, at 236 million tons a year or about 4.6 pounds per person each day. At this rate, I throw away my weight’s worth in trash every month (or a month and a half during the holidays).

A photographer named Chris Jordan was so interested in the phenomenon of consumer waste that it inspired his most recent collection titled “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait.” The series of photographs, which can be viewed online at www.chrisjordan.com, breaks down unfathomable numbers of consumer waste into easy-to-understand, bite-sized images.

It’s one thing to hear “two million plastic bottles are used in the U.S. every five minutes.” It’s quite another to see a picture of the two million plastic bottles.

Being a self-proclaimed technophile, one of the photographs I found of interest was one that depicted the 426,000 cell phones that are retired in the United States every day. I found this photograph of interest, as I’ve owned nine cell phones in the past five years. Unfortunately, I have no joke to follow the previous candid statement. I’ve owned nine cell phones in the past five years.

Everyone is entitled to indulge in their own pursuit of happiness, regardless of the path they choose. Is it necessary, however, that the pursuit of such happiness bring with it such a level of Trump-esque overindulgence? Do we really need another cell phone? Must we double-bag that gallon of milk as if it were a set of Russian nesting dolls? Are 100 photocopies of our butt cheeks even necessary?

Recycling is good for the environment, yadda yadda yadda, but perhaps simply having self-control and first reducing our consumer waste might not only be easier to do, but leave a more positive impact on society and the environment.

At the very least, it might leave a positive impact on whoever uses the bathroom stall after us.

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