Monday, January 14, 2008


At a prelude speech advertising the upcoming Detroit Auto Show, a General Motors official announced that the company has signed a contract to manufacture automobiles that will use Ethanol for fuel, not Ethanol made from corn, but Ethanol made from waste.

This is bombastic news, because waste is something we which we have in unlimited supply. The GM emissary making the announcement did not specify what kind of waste will be used for these cars, but if it is household garbage, I could keep my car running for months.

I live alone and one would not think that a single person could generate more than a breadbox filled with garbage, but I manage to fill two or three garbage bags with my collection. That's because everything you buy is encased in a package, with liners and fillers, then the object of purchase is wrapped and packaged, until you have enough waste to fill a 50 gallon garbage can with just one purchase.

I have heard that paper waste is one of the main exports of the United States. These shiploads of waste paper are sent to the Orient, where the industrious slave labor there creates all sorts of objects from the paper we throw away, little drink umbrella's, those cute little items that no one knows what to do with, and pretty little fans that the kids play with for a few minutes before they break them, and other things. If this kind of waste paper is used as fuel for cars, we may have to give up those little umbrellas and have plain, naked drinks unembellished with Oriental doodads. I think our civilization could survive this.

It's embarrassing to realize that waste paper may be our biggest export, while other American goods have faded into history. Our manufacturing plants have gone with the wind that Ross Perot called the "giant sucking sound." If you listen, you can still hear it, with the auto companies going Global and our jobs sucked into this vacuum along with our ability to produce goods that people need to buy.

When I was a child and lived on the Farm with my elderly parents, we had no problems with waste. We did not carry out two or three garbage bags every week. We did not bundle up the flowing supply of paper and debris on Thursday night so that the big truck with its grinding jaw could gobble up and compress the waste products we collected every week. We had no garbage. Everything was recycled on the farm.

Boxes and cardboard of all kinds were fed into the big, round, black stove in the living room, eaten up by the flames, the smoke sent up the chimney to disappear into the atmosphere. Newspaper and other scraps of paper were taken to the outhouse for use as toilet tissue. No soft, squeezable Charmin there, just stacks of newspaper and other tidbits of information. In fact, I was educated in the outhouse. Sitting there on those rough, wooden holes, I read the papers and perused the pages of books that Mom had decided to throw away. I learned more there than I ever did in school, if you discount Math, which was always my downfall.

When the debris in the Outhouse had collected to a point that was unbearable, Pop spread an acidic substance...I think it was lye...on the detritus and cleaned it out. So our waste products eventually became good black soil, the kind you could plant flowers in or spread around the garden plants to nurture them.

As for remnants of food, there was no collection of garbage there, either. The dogs always ate the leftovers, enjoying every tidbit they gobbled down. If they left behind a potato peeling or a corncob, the chickens took care of the rest of it. If the food scraps became too plentiful for even the dogs to eat, Pop would cook them up and take them out to the hogs. He called this mixture "Slop," a perfect name for the horrible mess. One didn't just feed the hogs, one "slopped" them, and they became fat and edible with this diet.

In this modern world, we have to pay for garbage removal. If we have an item that is considered too large and heavy for the garbage truck, we pay extra to have it removed. Thus, I spent a morning with my neighbor, Rick, pounding an old organ into tiny pieces, packaging it into garbage bags, trying to avoid the $100 payment to the garbage company. When we had finished, that organ was shredded, no longer the object of ear-shattering wails and spine-tingling moans from its depths as my tiny granddaughter pounded on its keys. The garbage men carried it away without comment.

Later on, I found another method of removing an unwanted object. All one had to do is approach a young garbage man, struggling to live on the low wages paid by his company, and offer him a few bucks to take the couch or the chair or the organ. Thus, the disposal of garbage has led to the destruction of my moral code, hurtling me into bribery and corruption.

This system, however, is preferable to the Dumpers who travel our back roads disposing of couches and refrigerators and other objects that hardly add to the scenic views. The disposal of garbage in our country has become a crime scene. Tickets for littering are handed out if these people are caught, yet they cannot afford the high prices charged for garbage removal. Sometimes they sneak objects into the dumpsters paid for by businesses, to the chagrin of the business owners, who come to work to find themselves laden with old furniture. It's a national problem, but I doubt very much if Congress or George W. Bush will ever try to solve it. They provide tax cuts for the wealthy, but the garbage woes of the populace are not foremost in their minds.

So, in my mind's eye, I can see myself in the years to come, driving around in my new, small Hummer which will get 50 miles per gallon or more, fueled by the garbage I used to pay that company to haul away. My garbage will be so valuable that GM will pay ME. Yes, I will get my monthly check....and probably some kind of gold Award....for generating more material for fuel than any other U.S. citizen. No more feeling edgy and embarrassed about those overflowing sacks and cans on my curb. Instead of an Oil Baron, I can become a Garbage Baron, with gold toilet fixtures in my palace and a team of lobbyists working for my benefit in Washington, D.C.