Tuesday, January 17, 2017

MID-CENTURY CONTAINERS -- PART 8 (THE GARBAGE)



“The age of plastics,” they used to say, but as I tried to research the phrase, I discovered the information highway clogged with info about some recording of that title.

My parents at the outdoor fireplace c. 1950
Even as we began to hear “the age of plastics,” my dad called it the age of paper due to the amount of junk mail he carried into the house. “And this doesn’t count what I toss in the bin at the post office,” he said. Even so, there was no denying the explosion in the plastics industry. Plastic was replacing metal in everything from toys to cars and machinery, regardless of whether it was a good idea or not. With the increasing use of plastic in our manufactured goods, quality and durability were compromised.

I don’t remember when I first heard that plastic was a threat to the environment and our health. It was probably the ‘80s when the garbage service in Orofino insisted that patrons pack their garbage in those big black plastic bags, touting them as “eco-friendly.” Sister Harriet took issue. “THEY ARE NOT ECO-FRIENDLY,” she protested.

In my youth, we separated the trash from the garbage and burned the trash in the outdoor fireplace. And when I asked Mike, who grew up in the South, what he remembered about mid-century garbage management, he said, “Everybody had a burn bin.”  

In addition, at the house of my youth, an old enamel pail was stashed under the kitchen sink as our garbage receptacle. It was lined with a brown paper sack which became soggy with wet garbage. (This was the pre-garbage-disposer era.) The garbage was a source of odor in the kitchen and demanded a watchful eye (or should that be nose?).

I can honestly say that I hated that garbage pail, even though I was seldom forced to deal with it directly. Now, I am not a fastidious housewife. I’m a hopeless clutterer and Mike is dusting even as I write, but garbage is not allowed to linger long in my house.

Back in the ‘50s, I remember making trips to the old dump with my dad. We turned in where the Orofino Builders Supply is located today and followed a bumpy, unpaved road westward along the Clearwater River, past the railroad depot, to the dump. A scruffy old guy would come out of a shack to greet us. Fires smoldered there on the river bank.

We are no longer encouraged to burn our “burnables,” I suppose because smoke contaminates our environment. Everything goes to the landfill, unless we recycle. In our community, the recycling program is voluntary, and unfortunately the county officials don’t warmly embrace the concept. In fact, last year they ceased accepting plastics and cans for recycling. If we want to recycle those, we have to carry them to the program in the neighboring county.

Now in Seattle, it’s a different story. They have mandatory recycling and can be fined if recyclables are tossed in with the garbage. That means, of course, that “big brother” checks your garbage. I know of one couple (not my family) who saw this as an invasion of privacy and were glad to move to another state. KW

4 comments:

Chris said...

We are big recyclers and fortunately, we have a fantastic recycling center. Since we live out of town, we take our things in, but Dan does it often. I remember trips to the dump as a child--it was a big deal! We loved to go with Dad. Remember the shacks? I think bums lived in them.

We have burn a lot of paper and cardboard in our fireplace insert in the basement--our version of the burn barrel. :-)

Kathy said...

Yes, your community DOES have an excellent recycling center.

Our household had fun going to the dump, too. Yeah -- the shacks. Whatever happened to the dump?

Chris said...

I think it diappeared when we began to have garbage pickup. It was kind of an unsightly mess and could be seen across the river.

Kathy said...

Oh -- absolutely it was unsightly. The area has been nicely improved.