Technology is moving along at an extremely rapid pace and it is keeping stride, step by step with the lightning speed at which we lead our modern lives.
If we could only turn back time for a single century and examine all of the revolutionary changes which have literally taken the world by storm, most visionaries would find it impossible to comprehend our society today vs. the limited foresight of the early 20th century.
In order to advance at an almost unfathomable pace in production and automation requirements, segments which were heavily depended on in order to realize steady progress, the likes of scientific research and technology-related fields, had to devour their work so quickly to remain slightly ahead, that they seldom had time for clean up.
In short, this is why we encountered major problems in our society with overwhelming amounts of waste.
It would be virtually impossible to even begin to talk about improvements in any field during the last century, without mentioning the impact waste had, as a direct result of technological advancements.
Although it might be “frowned upon” in certain circles, there is no way to get around a little “trash talk” when it comes to the progress of our nation.
A Time When Everyone was on the Bottle
Considering that 3500 years ago mankind started implementing the use of glass bottles, it would be safe to say that “bottling”, as it is now referred to, was a pretty good invention.
Owning the patent to a glass bottle for 3500 years would probably have been a lucrative business, especially when mass production became available in the early 1900’s. I mean you would have your more ancient rivals who discovered fire and the one who invented the wheel and they might try to boast if you all three met for a drink.
The wheel guy would consider himself most important, being more of the true inventor type, mocking the fire guy as basically “discovering” fire which is technically little more that getting burned and being able to trace it backward, more accident than anything.
Both traditionalists would smugly be looking upon the glass man as “not a big deal.” Once that little carrying cart came toward them and they saw the ice cold frost dripping from those bottles, they would without question be consumed by shame.
We may have a difficult time understanding what life was actually like before the invention of plastic, which coincidentally that invention occurred about the same time mass production of bottles began, but plastic really didn’t get moving for quite a few years.
Plastic has never been a “waste-friendly” substance and it could be easily argued that “talking trash” was never really a common subject and did not occur when everyone was still on the bottle. Plastic, complicated the mix when it came to the world’s waste equation.
The Patriotic Call to Recycle
We will blame the war on plastic as it was indeed World War II which saw plastic usage rise by 300%. During World War I and World War II recycling rubber, metal paper and other items came as a call to action from the government.
In addition to helping with the materials which were in high demand it also gave citizens a sense of involvement and personal sacrifice during the dark times of war.
About that time is when plastic became an easy alternative, of course it was less of a hassle than needing to recycle everything else.
We must take a moment and be honest, the US has always been about convenience and who would have thought that using plastic would have provided anything other than an easy way out from using glass or other items which were being saved.
Plastic has always been marketed as a “easy and new alternative” since the beginning, maybe as a society we should have seen it coming.
A “Not So Flexible” Situation
We could literally discuss the history of trash and waste prior to the invention of plastic, one could dwell on 10,000 years ago when people started realizing trash was something which could be removed.
All of the romance of recognizing what waste was really all about prior to the 1850’s is completely insignificant.
Until the realization that germs could actually cause disease, mankind really had little to say about where waste was disposed of.
The rule of “leg” applied prior to the discovery that trash could contain harmful bacteria.
The rule of “leg” was penned accordingly: “if you do not trip over it, don’t worry about the trash.”
People were some pretty unsanitary creatures when it came to garbage collection, but nothing had an impact on waste disposal like the invention of plastic and then its ultimate rise.
The Island of Misfit Trash
It was not the island of the doll missing an arm or the Jack in the Box which did not pop out, as depicted in the famed tale of the red nosed deer.
Once upon a time in a far off land there were dumps, which were huge piles of any type of waste or garbage, empty paint cans, old car parts, radios, union bosses, a virtual catch all for society.
It was considered the darkest ages prior to the 1930’s. When that concept became unthinkable to continue to build large cities of trash in remote locations, a few places started burying the trash under dirt and calling it a landfill.
It was a brilliant design breakthrough. If people could not see the heap of trash then apparently it did not exist.
Early landfills, pre 1940’s for the most part , were literally piles upon piles of disgusting smelling, germ ridden, chemical and lead substance rich, rodent infested, disease bearing piles of waste which were covered over by dirt.
Imagine the consequences of the outcome. Water tables were poisoned by pollutants, homes and businesses within several miles could smell horrible stenches from their clothes, their noses, and the quality of life anywhere in the vicinity of a landfill for any creature was not the best.
Rats might be the only possible creatures who viewed early landfills as a status symbol. Early landfills were certainly the unenlightened ages of waste management.
A Kinder, Gentler, Mound of Waste
During the 1930’s a landfill act in California was basically the first signal to the world that eventually, if something was not done to improve the conditions, we might very well end up exposing our entire nation to the smell of trash.
Borrowing from a British concept, the belief that if a landfill did not smell as badly then it must be a “sanitary” landfill was born.
Gradually implementing the idea of mixing one layer of waste then placing another layer of dirt and alternating the layers as the landfills were filled, became the order of the day from the late 30’s and into the 40’s for some of the more “cutting edge” areas of the nation with respect to early waste management.
From an engineering standpoint it would be creating one of those automatic kitty litter boxes with an automatic rake to continue to cover up the waste, layer by layer through integrating the soil.
It was another profound concept building upon the theory that if you could not see the trash and could barely smell the garbage it must not exist.
This concept today would not be widely accepted as a valid option except by those who have a number of cats and several of those automated litter pans.
These few are still convinced that something not seen and minimally masked with respect to scent does not exist.
The Woodstock Era of Environmental Awareness
This is the part where we want to talk about the movement of love and peace and environmental awareness which changed the concept of our nation through realizing the impact which waste had upon the world’s resources.
It would be great to talk about but the fact it took four decades to actually clean up the remaining half of the estimated 1,400 tons of garbage left on the grounds after the event, would make it difficult to use that as an example of when our nation became environmentally conscious.
During 1970 the first “Earth Day” is now recognized as a turning point where the nation finally started to say “enough is enough.”
Glass bottle recycling became the order of the day in the 70’s with refundable deposits on glass bottles and the awareness that creating less waste by producing something new from something which used to take up space in dumps and landfills opened eyes.
Open dump restrictions were set in place in 1976 to close the dumps which had been operational for several decades.
In 1981 Woodbury New Jersey became the first place to actual mandate recycling. Blue boxes for recycling began to show up in more places throughout the country.
Turning the Corner Before the New Century
By the mid 1990’s styrofoam cups had been reduced and eliminated at many large environmentally conscious corporations and recycling of plastics was starting to make major strides.
More laws and regulations started to find their way into commercial and residential waste disposal practices.
As a huge increase in plastic production occurred as a result of more technological advancements like computers, cell phones, etc. the colossal volume of non biodegradable waste began to soar.
With the extreme cost of recycling plastic in the US and the fact that most high grade plastic required for manufacturing was not feasible as part of the recycling process a solution needed to be found.
Special Regional Emphasis on Recycling
California and the NorthEast US began to lead the way into the future of recycling by the early part of the 21st century.
The highly populated industrial regions of NY and NJ were instrumental in helping beautify the surrounding suburbs and farm lands though helping reduce waste by way of recycling.
California major metro areas had been recognized as national leaders in saturation percentage of recycling.
By 2007 nearly 40% of the top US cities for green awareness were in the Northeast region and California.
By 2015 the states of CT, RI, NY, MA, NH and VT were in the top 10. As of 2015 at least 25% of US plastic containers are manufactured in part by recyclable plastics.
Having Come a Long Way On the World’s Stage
As technology has increased it has made it more cost effective for the US to recycle for manufacturing applications. For several decades China, due its extremely low grade of plastic used in manufacturing, became the dumping ground for most of the world with respect to all types of plastics.
Although China and Hong Kong remain far above the rest of the world with respect to importing solid waste, mostly in the form of plastics, more nations are able to continue to ship less to China as the years have seen an increase in self reliance in plastic disposal.
Through improvements seen in several US states, most specifically the 6 North East US states of CT, RI, NY, MA, NH and VT which make of all but 4 of the nation’s top 10, it has greatly reduced our dependence on exporting to China and Hong Kong.
For Decades We Redistributed, Now We Recycle
Now that major US corporations have starting actually refining plastics into top quality re-usable material we are no longer required to play the redistribution game.
With concentration on going green and the marketing craze centering around the logical and smart decision to become more eco-friendly, companies are being rewarded by customers who purchase their goods and services based on their willingness to give back to the planet.
As larger percentages of collection of plastics steadily increased and the cost to export them grew more expensive, it created a window of opportunity for technology to take the lead in an effort to help reduce damage to the environment.
An Ounce of Awareness is Worth a Pound of Cure
A little over a century ago, humanity, most specifically our nation, began to sponsor a race.
The two contestants in the race were technology and commerce. In order for commerce to continue to speed up it relied on technology.
Technology was required to advance and stay slightly ahead of commerce, out of necessity to develop more viable invention.
Commerce was necessary to stay only a small step behind technology in order to fund research and development in order to improve technology. There was no concern for the mess left on the ground.
For over a century we operated under the same self-centered greed of the moment, which left our thirst for advancement as a species to supersede our awareness of the grave damages which we had been inflicting on our most important technology-our planet.
Now that we have added a third contestant to the race, realizing that without keeping the environment slightly ahead of both technology and commerce, the race eventually would end.
We finally took pause to catch our breathe and realize it is time to focus on healing the wounds which we have inflicted during these past few centuries.
It is true: an ounce of awareness is worth a pound of cure.
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