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Hoaders help battle the litter problem


Before the Simpsons came along, Homer was the guy usually associated with an epic poem called The Odyssey.

Before the new millennium, Gomer was the guy who, every once in a while, signaled moments of deep existential insight by turning to his best friend and fellow philosopher to say “Shazam, Goober.”

I had one of those Gomerian moments the other day when it struck me that only thing that distinguishes me from a hoarder is my habit of dragging all my trash out to the curb once a week.

On the one hand, that’s as obvious as the fact that my weekly trips require spousal prompts.

On the other hand, in the grand scheme of things, it also means my Sunday night trips to the curb really don’t make me anymore environmentally friendly than the person who body surfs to the bathroom a couple of times a day over the slick coatings on last spring’s pizza ads.

Because while I dispose of my trash in a socially accepted manner, the truth is, the trash that otherwise would reside in my house mostly goes on to be buried it its new home, the great outdoors.

And that sort of makes me part of an industrialized system of littering.

With the help of a magnifying glass needed to read the codes on packages, I do some recycling. But the figures I read we’re kind of feeble in that department, anyway.

And that means if we piled my year’s worth of trash outside my house, it likely would reach higher than the equivalent hoarder’s just because of the compaction that takes place by constant trips over the piles.

No, I’m not thinking about taking up hoarding in retirement.

But as I imagined myself sitting atop the imagined pile of annual trash I like to call Mount Tom I had one of those Shazam moments about all this and considered, for a moment, what a Goober I sometimes am.

The only thing odder than imagining myself writing this column from the summit of Mount Tom may be the weird ways various trash-talking groups try to help us get our minds around the vastness of the trash cosmos. Although more plain spoken, its strangeness bears a resemblance to descriptions of the universe suggested by theoretical physics.

One of my favorite attempts is this one from the Clean Air Council: “Every year, Americans throw away enough plastic cups, forks and spoons to circle the equator 300 times.”

Why they’d circle there instead of lining up at big box stores the day after Thanksgiving, I’m not sure.

Weirder yet to consider are the 102 billion plastic bags we go through in a year — bags that can’t be mulched for the garden but instead break down in water and sunlight to leach out their harmful chemicals onto the earth.

During an Intercostal Cleanup, the clean water folks said, plastic bags were the second most common form of waste found, which made me wonder whether they’d been used to pick up the most common form of waste.

Here’s another stab they took at getting us to understand what’s going on with the big bang we hear each week when the garbage truck compactor acts like a juicer from hell.

“While the numbers may be difficult to grasp, consider this: With the garbage produced in America alone, you could form a line of filled-up garbage trucks that reach the moon … or cover the state of Texas two and a half times.”

The truth is, I have a good friend I’m pretty sure would spearhead an effort to do the latter.

Different numbers are put on magazines, books and newspapers; tires, Styrofoam cups and PVC; and they say that just working in an office, we manage to crank out 2.2 pounds of paper per person every day.

On average, each person generates 4.5 pounds of trash a day.

But while driving around the other day, I had a thought that may cover it.

Almost everything I drive by in a day’s time, most anything I see, probably someday is headed for a landfill — with the exception of the stuff the hoarders won’t let out of their homes.

That’s something the Homer might think of as epic.

And the original Gomer? Well, he could at least recycle his exclamation to Goober.


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