The Silver Lining

     While I am as distressed as the next person about our tanking economy, I can’t help but see in it a silver lining for the planet.

     With people cutting back in so many ways, we’re reducing the strain, at least temporarily, that our extravagant, high consuming ways typically place on the earth.   

     One place where it is easy to see that people are consuming much less these days is the landfill.  The following information is from “A Trashed Economy Foretold,” a piece by Brigid Schulte in   The Washington Post (March 14, 2009). 

   Landfill managers observe that trash levels have been steadily declining over the last year.  Some landfills are receiving up to 30% less trash than they were a year ago.  At a landfill in Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, where it had not been unusual to see 40 garbage trucks lined up to dump their loads, there is never a line now.  The manager of the Loudoun County (Va.) landfill notes that so much less trash is coming his way that the landfill won’t be full by 2012 as had been predicted.  Instead, the landfill will have space for another year and a half.

     So why are people generating so much less trash than they were just a year ago? 

     There are many reasons.  For one thing, people are buying fewer appliances and other major items, so there is less packaging to throw out.  And packaging typically accounts for about a third of the trash in landfills.  And with fewer houses being built, less housing debris is going to the landfill.  People are eating out less, so restaurants are generating less trash.  And landscapers are working less, so there is less yard debris going into landfills. 

     People are also using things longer.  Clothing is a prime example.  In 2007, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans threw away (not gave away) 7 million pounds of clothing and shoes.  But recent declines in retail clothing sales and drops in clothing donations to thrift shops suggest that people are wearing their clothes longer.  And sales are so brisk at second hand stores that some are putting out requests for more donations in order to keep up with the demand. 

     People are also more inclined, these days, to repair, rather than throw away, what’s broken.  Cars, appliances, and computers are more often fixed these days, and repair businesses are reporting that business is up.


     I sympathize with the many people who are suffering and having difficulty meeting basic needs in today’s economy.  But I also hope the more thrifty, careful habits many people are developing these days will last.–April Moore

3 Responses to “The Silver Lining”

  1. Judy Says:

    This is encouraging news, indeed. However, I am shocked to read that in one year Americans threw away 7 million pounds of clothing and shoes. To me, this is unimaginable, totally without consciousness. How did we ever, in just a few decades, reach this level of self-centeredness, so unaware of the world around us?

  2. Joan Brundage Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful article. I think this trend is a good thing for us all.

  3. Jim Z. Says:

    In the N.S.B. blog, I recently wrote:

    “The entire economic system is built on “throughput,” the high-volume conversion of raw materials into waste, with a very brief detour in the service of satisfying momentary human gratification. We’ll be hearing from Mother Earth on this shortly….”

    Examining the landfills, thrift stores, etc., gives this concept a real-world perspective.

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