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Vertrees: Will scientists one day look back on our detritus society?

Carrol Vertrees

Carrol Vertrees

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Updated: January 10, 2013 6:13AM



An eon has been defined as “an indefinitely long period.” You know, like a presidential campaign or a Major League Baseball game.

I would like to be around an eon or two from now when some curious scientific diggers find one of our burial grounds for garbage and junk. We call them “landfills” which sounds mysterious.

What the excavators unearth won’t be as theologically important and revealing as the Dead Sea Scrolls, but it will tell the scholars plenty about the place called America.

I am thinking of putting some notes in the trash bags that I deposit in my favorite dumpster, saying something like “Hey! We sure did throw away a lot of stuff, right?” I may add “Go Cubs!” That will make it more mysterious.

The scientists may not understand the American language, but in some language they probably will say it like this: “We have unearthed the detritus of a decadent, wasteful civilization. We will continue digging, as we strive to understand more about those people.”

In my growing-up days back in rural Indiana, we didn’t have plastic bags or dumpsters or garbage disposals. But we had chickens and pigs, who ate almost anything we threw out to clean up the garbage. I don’t remember what the townies did with their trash and leftovers.

We did not have landfills, but often rural folks improvised and dumped old ice boxes and other defunct equipment into nearby ditches or screened-off wooded areas. There was nobody to call. Besides, farmers could dump whatever they wanted to on their own property.

After overturning in a ditch one night hauling us home from a free movie, our Model T was finished, although we got it home. It sat on a hill behind the house, roofless and lonely. If that happened today, we might tow it to an open area and advertise it for sale. “As is,” of course. I don’t recall what happened to it, but maybe the hogs ate it.

But even with our wonderful landfills, there still is a lot of junk just sitting around, uglifying the landscape. I am disappointed that our know-it-all politicians don’t promise a solution. They wouldn’t have to keep their promises, but it would be fun to hear them talk about it.

Just last week, I read a complaint in the paper about a local area with water heaters, fridges, etc. sitting in yards. I reckon that stuff is detritus. It is ugly, in any language. And it is all around us.

What can we do with our garbage and throwaway stuff? I was all set to blame the plastic bag folks for creating an ecological scourge, but I read that a grocer group suggests that using paper bags is no good solution either. I read a couple of years ago that about 14 million trees are used annually to make paper bags and 12 million barrels of oil are needed to make a year’s supply of plastic bags.

I am always excited when we come to the food checkout place, trying to decide how to answer the packer who asks “Plastic or paper?” I pretend the choice is hard. Actually neither does much to ease the pressure on our environment.

One answer, some grocery folks advise, is to avoid plastic or paper bags when you can. One way is to BYOB, they say, meaning bring your own bag. But it might be misunderstood to mean bring your own bottle. Considering the price of groceries, that might be a good idea.



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