Here in Kaleuche, Dario and Laura live without trash… that is, without letting any waste (or the very minimum amount) leave the property. It´s the opposite of NIMBY (´Not In My BackYard´- an environmental science term). They have a composting toilet and a regular compost, and they use the paper trash to fuel the fire that heats their house. The rest, they separate into different types of inorganic matter, and they stuff whatever other inorganic matter can fit into big soda bottles to later use for building.
My project of the week has been the construction of bins to sort out glass bottles, plastic bottles, plastic bottles filled with trash, and tins, which before, they kept strewn about in boxes by the side of the driveway. With some cantoneras (first-cut wood), 2 x 2s, screws, and a screwdriver, I constructed a unit containing three bins, each a cubic meter. Yesterday, Laura and I had fun throwing the plastic bottles into their container, and arranging the glass bottles somewhat less haphazardly. Although we made light of the task, it did make my stomach sink a bit to see layer after layer of plastic bottles fill the bin.
Today´s task, however, unsettled me much more. A couple of big cans of trash had escaped the process of sorting and stuffing into bottles, so I emptied and sorted them completely. Nothing can make you hate plastic more than having to deal with it (in this case, compressing or ripping it to fit into the tiny mouth of a soda bottle) instead of just tossing it into a can. The task nauseated me – and not, believe it or not, because rainwater had entered the can and covered everything I handled with an orange mix of rusty water and trash sludge. No, plastic has always sickened me, but not until I ripped styrofoam into strips so it would fit into the bottles, squeezed expired mayonaise into a well in the compost to salvage the bags, twisted disintegrating nylon sheets that left a dusting of plastic shreds on the ground, and rammed over a hundred plastic bags into the bottles with a stick that I felt like I might actually vomit. Cracker bags, candy wrappers, electrical cable, spent lighters, battery packaging. Everything passed through my hands and my mind before I compressed it into Sprite and Coca Cola bottles.
If this is what the trash of a permacultural, environmentally-conscious couple looks like, imagine what it could be for another family. Imagine the sheer amount of plastic that we each use, and that we all use when combined together. It´s a material that, at least in our conception of the future, is not going to leave the earth. Who had the idea of extracting something from deep in the ground and creating EVERYTHING out of it? So energy-intensive, too. Can we make a worldwide ban on plastic? Definitely not with the amount we depend on it now.
For one positive aspect, all of the plastic I stuffed – about a cubic meter, loose – filled only five soda bottles. It compresses well, and better to build with it and make use of it than to burn it or throw it into a dump. What insanity, though. And I accepted plastic bags that I didn´t need in Buenos Aires grocery stores just because that´s what everyone else did there. After such an intimate experience with plastic today, I look around and every little piece of plastic I see gives me shivers. A package of candles. A wine cork. Another mayonaise container, my gosh. We do not need to live depending on a material that does not by any means fit into any cycle on the planet.
Sorry for the rant. But that´s what we are doing here: IMBY. In My BackYard. We are accountable for everything we consume and then dispose of. Tomorrow, when I travel back north to El Bolson for my rock climbing buddy´s birthday asado, I´m going to try to make it a zero-plastic trip. Maybe if you´re reading this, you can find a way to eliminate some plastic use (even just for a day) too.