Humans consume things and humans toss things. It’s been that way from the beginning and will ever be so. A true test of our global citizenship is how responsible we are in the way we discard our junk. Will our junk hurt the Earth? Will our careless junk disposal practices harm humanity? Or . . ., can our junk be repurposed to help the Earth and heal humanity?
Though humans have been around a long time, our junky-impact on the world really didn’t begin to take a problematic hold until the Industrial Revolution which began in the early 1800s. During the Industrial Revolution, power-driven machinery started to dominate the economic landscape. Factories were built and assembly lines increased product through-put at tremendous levels. It also increased junk levels at tremendous levels. Junk increased because (1) households had more broken products to throw away, and (2) factories produced more junk during the manufacturing process.
Junky cities and junky prairies
19th-century America saw a rise in junky cities and junky prairies. Yup. Although the American West was pristine and virtually untouched by European colonists, once settlers hit the trails for Manifest Destiny, the trails became littered with junk.
As families made their way out west on the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, or the Gold Rush Trail, they often did so with wagons overloaded with food barrels, furniture, and other provisions. What resulted was a trail of discarded empty food barrels and unnecessary furniture. Because there were no garbage dumpsters, these prairie trails turned into a veritable junkyard. Fort Laramie eventually became known as “Camp Sacrifice” because of its reputation as a dumping ground for westward-bound pioneers. On one occasion, a pioneer group dumped 20,000 pounds of bacon!
What became of all this junk? Some it rotted in the sun. Some of it was reclaimed by other passers-by. And some still remains, buried forever in the windswept plains of the American west.
It’s not like they could Google anything!
What could these desperate pioneers have done differently? The answer lies not in how they disposed of the junk, but rather how they planned their journey. The reason they had so much junk was because they had too much stuff. Some of this is a result of the shop keepers who convinced settlers to buy an over-abundance of supplies for the treacherous journey. After all, it’s not like the pioneers had the ability to Google “What supplies do I need for a trip to Oregon?” They relied heavily on the information shared by others, including unscrupulous merchants.
Yet, even though the American west was settled by pioneers who often dumped their junk along the prairie trail, the same American west is thriving, and is home to some of the cleanest and most responsible environmentally-friendly businesses in America, including a company that is the world leader of eco-friendly consumer product manufacturing based in Idaho and run by CEO cowboy Frank VanderSloot.
Manifest Destiny is obviously over for the United States. The west was won the prairie was tamed. However, the lessons learned from those who trekked those dusty trails are still relevant today, and include this important lesson: The best way to mitigate junk disposal is to properly plan ahead.