Solving The Wrong Problem

On this day in the year two thousand sixteen of the common era, 18 days and 15 hours after it began, my green home experiment died a quiet death. My sad little recycle bin only contained several junk mail flyers, a popsicle stick (not recyclable), and a paper plate that probably shouldn’t be there because it’s coated with wax. Do I wish good things for my codyplanet? Of course. I carry the same first world guilt that many Americans do. I fear photoshopped pictures of frightened polar bears desperately clinging to their shrinking icebergs. The image of Iron Eyes Cody, a tear streaming down his face as he watches garbage callously tossed from a vehicle haunts me. But, I’m also terribly lazy and trying to figure out what can and can’t be recycled was a pain so that was the end of that.

After a brief pang of guilt, I moved on. I’m an adaptable guy. But it does highlight a common human problem. We invest tremendous amounts of energy in solving the wrong problems. Trying to solve the solid waste management problem by forcing people at the trashend of the chain to dutifully sort and separate their trash is doomed to fail. National participation rates hover in the 20-30% range. With the exception of aluminum, recycled materials are a net cost and energy loss. Virgin plastic resin costs 40% less than recycled plastics. Raw silica sand used for glass production is around $20 a ton vs $40 to $60 for recycled glass. A quote I either found or made up regarding the efficiency of recycling is:  “There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource or just garbage. If someone will pay you for the item, it’s a resource. But if you have to pay someone to take the item away, then it’s garbage.”

We are not going to solve the enormity of our waste problem by imploring people to rinse out their plastic mustard containers and carefully place them in a special bin. The problem needs to be solved upstream. Radical changes to packaging, incineration and reuse of the ash, building a dedicated monorail and shipping it to the desert to create a giant pyramid future historians can marvel at… these are the ideas we need to focus our energy on.

It feels as if much of the United States is stuck in a conventional thinking mode. The old guard is longing for a time when we clearly dominated the world without really trying. Uber is a great example. My city just recently fought a protracted battle with the transportation upstart. The old guard was trying desperately to protect the cab companies and the way things have always worked. I recently took a trip and used both Uber and a cab company. Leaving for the airport at 4am, I checked the Uber app and there was a driver a few blocks away. It took him a few minutes to get to my house. His car was new, clean, and he was a pretty nice guy. $9 for my trip, taken care of by my credit card already on file. The return trip I took a cab from the airport. The cab was a rattling death trap that smelled of stale cigarette smoke and was driven by someone who grunted monosyllabic answers. Nearly $30 for that lovely experience. Why would anyone spend energy to defend that sort of old school business?

Politics, foreign policy, artificially created “shovel ready projects”, bringing back industrial manufacturing, the Eagles and Rolling Stones reunion tours, Hollywood remakes of movie classics like Vacation and Point Break – why? Move on. The world has changed. It’s time to think forward rather than wistfully dreaming of the days of the Sony Walkman and killer mix tapes. As Homer Simpson famously said, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. I think he meant the line to the Krispy Kreme, but donuts or global innovation… it’s all the same.

We’ve had a pretty solid run. We can feel good about it. CNN can continue to crank out mtvspecials documenting each decade. But we need to come to grips with the fact that it’s over. The world is changing at a remarkable pace. We need to make sure we’re solving the right problems or we’ll look up and wonder why our standard of living plummeted. My point? I’m not sure. I think I’m just frustrated because my Zune music player finally died and the new music landscape is just so… confusing. Sigh, why can’t we just bring back the original MTV?

On The Big Blue Bin

I shouldn’t tell you this because it makes me sound, well, terribly insecure. I am, but that’s beside the point. The point is to leave you marveling at how manly I am, combined with a deep sensitive side. Stay tuned for the end of the post and videos of monster trucks, tattoos,  blowing stuff up, and American eagles flying majestically over the latest Tough Mudder run.

This week I had two friends make me feel really bad about myself. They didn’t mean to (refer back to insecurity). The first incident followed the horrible running decision from my last post. My friend seemed to truly enjoy the run (no, I don’t understand that) and commented on her feelings upon reaching the summit. One of the things she said was how thankful she was that she had two arms and legs that work and how grateful she was that she could do something like this. At the time the only thoughts I had were #1: beer, #2: I’m never doing this again, and #3: beer.

It wasn’t until later that I reflected and realized that, holly crap I’m pretty damn insensitive. Of course she’s right. I’m sure there were folks in that race that trained most of the year, overcame incredible obstacles, and just finishing was probably a significant milestone for them. Meanwhile I’m writing a snarky post complaining that I didn’t do as well as I wanted and I should probably put more effort into it next time (no, there won’t be a next time). We’re all one horrible cement truck accident away from wishing we could run a race. I should be damn grateful that at my age I still can participate.

The second incident occurred over a dinner conversation. Somehow talk drifted towards garbage and I casually dropped the anti-green bombshell – no, I don’t recycle. After an uncomfortable silence, my friend called me out on my statement and said “why?” I briefly contemplated tales of old war wounds, presidential dispensations, we live in a recycle-free zone, my busy schedule… but quickly came to my senses and ‘fessed up. The answer is that I’m too lazy to sort it and I already take out the garbage too many times every week. Uh yeah, that sounds as lame writing it as it did saying it.

Sadly, I spoke the truth. I really am that shallow. I actually searched “does recycling really work” to see if I could make myself feel better. While there are a number of arguments you could try and make, at the end of the day recycling is a few less things that end up in a landfill. And that’s a good thing. Oh, but the cost!! Err, I looked that up too. In my town, even if I was to add a second recycle cart it’s only an additional .54 cents per month. Dammit, I hate when I can’t be right all the time.

Does this mean there’s going to be a fundamental shift in my outlook? Have I completely given in to the North End, crunchy granola, hippie, 420 celebrating, Tibetan prayer flag, and save the whales lifestyle? Probably not. But I do think I need to be a little more appreciative of what I have. And if I can make a few small differences here and there, why not? I am officially making one of the two garbage bins under the sink a “recycle” bin. We’ll see where it goes, but don’t hold your breath for the hemp clothing and compost bin.

As promised, in no particular order:

egale

Monster trucks  (I tried, but I just can’t do it. Too close to pro bass fishing and “jorts + mullets)

U.S. Marines blowing shit up  (warning, might be disturbing for those who don’t really understand what “stopping ISIS” actually means)

It doesn’t fit me, but I’m fascinated with day of the dead tattoos. (Dia De Los Muertos if you’re not from pigs-knuckle Arkansas. Apologies to any of our southern brothers that actually live in Arkansas. If you’re a reader and live in Arkansas, on purpose… well, I’m sorry. Don’t know what else to say)water

The Tough Mudder. (Relegated to the same waste bin as running races. Never again. Interferes with drinking beer)