Thursday, April 16, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

Years ago, people started talking ‘disposable’. We became a ‘disposable’ culture, in that whenever something didn’t work anymore, we were expected to toss it and get a new one. Shall we blame NASA for that mentality? After all, every time they sent someone or something into space, they had to build a whole new rocket, new capsule, and who knew what.
I hate to blame NASA. I believe in NASA, although I sometimes chaff at how slow their progress can be.
I don’t want to blame NASA, so I blame business. It’s a conspiracy, you know. Business figures that if they sell you something you want and need, but which quickly ceases to work, you’d be back to buy another. And then another.
How long does a ball point pen work? I’m not talking about expensive pens, I’m talking about the cheap ones you buy in packages of 10 or 30, that your workplace buys by the cratefull. They don’t last long. When was the last time you put an ink refill in one? You probably don’t; you just toss it and pull out a new one. They’re cheap, and you don’t even think about it, do you?
Well, pause right now and think about the hundreds, thousands, millions of dead ball point pens taking up space in landfills. Think about what remains of each one; a drop or two of ink, a tiny bit of metal, and the rest is plastic.
One or two million drops of ink would, I assume, eventually lose its ‘moisture’ into the surrounding compost, the color components forming bits of color. Millions of bits of metal would corrode at some point, possibly forming a metallic ‘lode’ for future people to dig up and use.
But what about the plastic? What’s the half-life of plastic? What does it form, if and when it finally breaks down? From what I’ve gathered, most plastics don’t break down in landfills. Some break down when exposed to sunlight for days on end, but when they do, they form nasty toxins. There are newer, ‘biodegradable’ plastics, but they don’t degrade well in landfills, either; they degrade in compost where heat is present. So, millions of plastic pens are thrown into landfills where they will probably remain dead pens for a heck of a long time. If they do manage to degrade, they will form toxins to sicken any plants or animals that ingest them.

Long after I’m dead and gone, all those ball point pens I’ve thrown away will be out there, forming toxins. That is not the kind of legacy I wanted.

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