Garbage is not dirt. In no way, is it dirt. Why do we treat it like dirt? For most of my life, I’…

Garbage is not dirt. In no way, is it dirt. Why do we treat it like dirt?

For most of my life, I've been somewhat concerned about the "environment". Not really so much in the "big picture" stuff, but rather in the small stuff.

The stuff we throw away. Our garbage.

From my first awareness at all of the garbage we create — when it was common practice to go to "The Dump" — which was literally a dumping ground for garbage, unmanaged (as far as I could tell) and a true NIMBY solution in the middle of Out Back — I was bothered.

I have a hard time throwing things out. I'm not a hoarder — it's not that I keep things strictly for sentimental reasons, or have inexplicable collections of junk. Ok, maybe there's a bit of that, too, but the first and strongest feeling that always comes through my mind when I'm about to throw something out is not desire or possessiveness ("MINE!"), but worry and sadness ("if I throw this out, have I killed the planet?").

I much prefer things to wear out. To be done with them and toss out the small, worn out, miniscule remains. I wear sneakers until the holes no longer keep out the sun. I wear a shirt beyond the point it has acquired holes (although it might become the under-shirt rather than the over-shirt). Socks with holes are worn until.. Well, until there are no soles any more. I took the protectors off my phone and iPod because they will age, get scarred and be worn out; I still have the older 60GB clickfauxwheel iPod as well, which can't be used if it's not plugged in, but the cradles in my car and my speakers work fine.

Some of these things I remember as things my mom would do when I was kid. Why buy plastic bags when milkbags can be washed out and used? (That one fails for me, because I don't buy milk in bags — I don't drink that much milk..) I wash out plastic containers that food comes in, and put them in my pantry. I don't always have use for them, but when I need one, I'm happy to drag it out and use it. Same goes for glass bottles.

I try to recycle cans and plastic bottles, but they are the hardest. I have to wait until I have a reasonable number, hop in my car and.. Well, since the recycling/redemption centre moved away from its very visible, centre-of-town location to someplace in the edge-of-town industrial park, I haven't figured that out yet. Some things, like batteries and burned out lightbulbs, are even harder to figure out how to recycle, but I'm going to try. (I admit to being somewhat cynical as to whether they are actually recycled, or merely "disposed of properly" in a chemical landfill..)

And yet, I still throw out things. Much of it is packaging, which is a one-use, non-recyclable, non-reusable blight. Some of it is food substances, which isn't too bad, although I wish I had the capacity to easily compost them instead. Some of it contains things that are broken, often made up of plastic, and nothing but pure waste.

Some things, I can't really throw away. Much of that is old electonics, such as old computers, old cables and headphones, etc. (I ran across an old portable MP3-CD player recently..). Most of it couldn't be resold to anyone, as technology has moved to quickly, and they aren't worth reclaiming as parts.

We have the capacity to change all this, as people of Earth. We can move away from the wasteful and idiotic use of precious fossil fuels to make plastic out of organic materials. We can change the way we think about stuff to go beyond the point of delivery and use, to what happens to it after use. We can create a culture of reuse, not just of use.

And we might even have to do that! Economies are growing weaker, environments are getting poisoned, resources are getting more scarce. We might have to re-use every old shirt as a rag, every old board as a new stool, every old computer as spare parts.

So, watch the video. Watch where trash goes. Think of how you can lower that input of trash, re-use it before it gets to the trash. Think of how you can contribute to the solution, not the problem.

Because it's not really about the big stuff: it's about the little stuff.

The video, made by Mae Ryan for Los Angeles public radio KPCC, traces trash from a burger lunch to its ultimate fate in a landfill. It reminds me of those great, old Sesame Street videos where you got to see what goes on inside crayon factories and peanut butter processing plants. Which is to say that it is awesome.

The process you see here, though, is L.A.-centric, which started me wondering: How much does the trash system differ from one place to another in the United States?

Over the las…