Posted by: nickgerlich | October 1, 2007

Talking Trash

Every time I head out to the dumpster, I wonder how we manage to generate so much trash. We don’t bag our lawn clippings, nor send brush and limbs to the landfill, yet it seems like we’re sending more stuff out than we take in. Where in the world is all this trash coming from?

According to the EPA, US residents, institutions, and businesses generate 245 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year. This comes out to about 4.5 pounds per person. Per day. Maybe Idiocracy was on target after all.

LandfillOf course, while I may not be directly toting out 18 pounds of trash each day for my family of four, I am indirectly contributing to the mess simply because I am a USAmerican consumer, and thus willing party to all the business activities going on each day in the manufacture and delivery of untold goods and services.

One need only look at Canyon’s Mt. Trashmore to see the effect (Amraillo’s landfill is somewhat less visible, hiding off to the northwest of the city). If they ever decide that Mt. Trashmore is full, they could easily bring in the snow machines and turn this place into a ski resort.

Which has me thinking. As a Marketing prof, maybe I am more guilty than the average person, because I am teaching people how to get other people to buy more stuff. In what may sound like a cheap ripoff of a George Carlin skit, the fact remains: Marketing is about consumption, and the more the merrier. Right?

In a land where retail sales are always being compared to “same store sales” of the previous year, the only acceptable way to go is up. You can’t greet the stockholders at the annual meeting and brag about how you actually helped to decrease consumption. And Steve Jobs would have nothing to tease us about if Apple just left the iPod alone (as well as all 100 million of us who own one). No, we all need to upgrade.

I remember when the CD came out in 1982 (yes, it has been a quarter of a century!). Originally, CDs were packaged in what was known as the CD longbox. The plastic jewel box we know today was encased in paperboard 12″ tall that was disposed of by the consumer. Arguments in favor of this packaging included: theft control, the ability to exploit album art, and they fit nicely in the old record bins.

Still, all that packaging…all those CDs I bought back then…all in a landfill back in Indiana.

And so it goes today. Nearly everything we buy has residual packaging that was intended either for promotional purposes, anti-theft, product protection, or some combination.

In the mean time, I feel like I probably ought to wear one of those black safety belts they make employees wear at Sam’s Club. All this trash is starting to take its toll on my back.

Dr “Garbage In, Garbage Out” Gerlich


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