This trash can from Whole Foods here in Manhattan comes labeled with a good reminder that the resources it swallows up are gone for the long haul. We might as well consider it to be "forever." Perhaps not forever in the string-theory sense, but within the extended temporal dimension we humans find ourselves living, it's apparent enough that there is no reversing the tide of time. So if we want the benefit of the energy inputs which have already gone into making that non-recyclable plastic bag from your organic chips, too bad, it's back to square one harvesting more raw materials and using more energy to make another bag from scratch. More to the point, there's no turning the clock back on designing a better product in the first place once your hand glibly, guiltily or guilessly feeds it to this trash can. TreeHugger reader Peggy asks:
How can anything that is used once and tossed be considered a 'great product'?
In China, Styrofoam packaging presents such a disposal problem that people often refer to it as 'white pollution.' It is thrown from the windows of trains and barges and litters the landscape everywhere. Imagine designing such packaging to safely biodegrade after use. It could be made from the empty rice stalks that are left in the fields after harvest, which are now usually burned. They are readily available and cheap. The packaging could be enriched with a small amount of nitrogen... Instead of feeling guilty and burdened when they are finished eating, people could enjoy throwing their safe, healthy nutripackage out the train window onto the ground, where it would quickly decompose and provide nitrogen to the soil. It could even contain seeds of indigenous plants that would take root as the packaging decomposes. Or people could wait to dispose of the packaging at the next train stop, where local farmers and gardeners would have set up stations to collect it for use in fertilizing crops. We could even plant signs that say 'Please Litter.'