TOTW: Trash & Landfills

It's a giant game of Tetris where people are piling up trash quicker and quicker until it hits the top and then, game over.

There are less controversial, piquant and risqué topics that are nevertheless urgent and vital. For example, what to do with trash. Landfills are a big problem. They're quickly closing down, full to the brim with trash. You might live near a landfill that’s about to close, leaving you and your neighbors to drown in your own trash. Merely living near a landfill is harmful to your health, imagine living inside of one. Many people don’t have to imagine. In fact, they will never know another life.

The narrative of early modernity was of urbanization as a sign of progress, hand-in-hand with slum clearance. Astounded projections declaring “by this or that date, more than half of the world’s population will be living in cities”. By now, it's a safe bet to say that soon most of the world’s population will be living in a landfill of one sort or another, hand-in-hand with the growth of slums.

Out of the pernicious consequences that emerge from human activity, climate change and extreme weather events capture the imagination, while the more commonplace tragedy of trash everywhere gets considerably less attention. Imagine the current menacing horizon of hills ablaze due to forest fires, soon giving way to a horizon of burning mountains of trash. How much worse the stench will be, when instead of burnt trees, it’s burnt trash that fills the air. Imagine the floods of wastewater that will become the new normal once sewage is the main content of rivers and all bodies of water. Imagine the flooding of sewage on fire. A landscape of literal shit-storms and dumpster-fires.

Anti-civ writing often focuses on extractivism, stopping extraction as the source and starting point of all industrial activity. But what about the other end? How to dispose of all the shit that’s already made? If we can’t manage all this waste, how can we each handle or cope with our failure to manage all this waste?

We've seen activism to stop the construction of pipelines with the slogan "Water is life" referring to the importance of protecting water from oil spills. Meanwhile, the landfills everyone takes for granted seep and pollute the groundwater around them across an area that is many times larger that the footprint of the trash mountain, which in some cases can be taller than high-rises. Tall enough to require air traffic lights.

We've seen blockades to stop logging operations, but how do you blockade the production of trash, when every household is the source? The factories make all the products that will inevitably become trash, but then the responsibility is passed on to the consumer, who passes it on to the waste-management company. Leaving the management of nuclear waste aside, proper management of landfills, which contain comparatively less potent toxic waste, is still a gargantuan endeavor. Few can imagine their proper management by states and corporations. Can we imagine their proper management without them?

Wishcycling is a neologism that, much like Greenwashing, points to the lie that green or environmentally-friendly technological fixes will solve the problem of pollution. It turns out that recycling is not a magical alchemy that turns waste into a resource, but instead it’s a resource-intensive industrial process that pollutes in order to produce a product that will still end up in the landfill, along with all the batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines from alternative energy solutions. Clearly, a real solution would require a holistic approach that addresses attitudes, habits, lifestyles, worldviews, and culture more broadly. Discard Studies is a new interdisciplinary field that investigates dynamics and consequences of waste, broadly defined. What could anarchists contribute to this field?

Anarchists often say that they’re not afraid of ruins, but are they afraid of trash? Could you really live like a literal trash-panda? Sure, tell us about dumpster-diving and D.I.Y. re-using of trash, but tell us about what to do about landfills first. Then tell us about what to do with other wastes, like sewage. Sure, “take what you need, and compost the rest”; compost is great to deal with food scraps and excretion, but most trash can’t be composted. What do you do with your trash? What are creative anarchist solutions to this problem?

There are 30 Comments

You've gotta laugh or die. Biodegradability and volume reduction are the main issues to be addressed so that the inevitable waste that living produces is minimised. Ideally a reduction in population would make for less waste.
I have seen some building blocks and railway sleeper sized plastico-timber products out there. Also, I messed around with an auto hydrolic jack and a steel can and compressed a bin full of plastic bags, bottles, wrappers and packaging to 5% of its volume. Its about being mindful and creative. If I needed to, I could build a cabin out of compressed plastic logs.
How about giant recycled plastic igloos and wigwams placed on every vacant block or piece of rejuvenated wasteland where anarcho-nihilists can plant lentils and citrus bushes and live happily everafter?

The idea of trash was actually one of the first issued that got me interested in anarchism and ecology. A big part of my "anarchism" was exploring the question of how to not produce trash and i think has been one of the main things that led me to anti-civ anarchism, since civilization has this wasteful component. The anti-chamber from Baedan is a great example. But if the goal is to no longer produce trash (or anything else) I do think that leaves still the huge hurdle of what all the trash the civilized has already produced means for those who seek to exit civilization. Micro plastics in water for example represent a huge hurdle where without the filtration systems of civilization there's a huge question of do natural filtration systems affect these plastics and to what extent? I don't know the answer myself but these sorts of problems of trash represent in a way how anti-civ politics are not just about escaping civ, but dealing with its consequences. And in many ways I think the consequences if civilization are showing more and more the absolute bleakness of any sort of life with civilization, not just in the future but the here and now.

the primary approach, imo, should be to dramatically reduce consumption, especially of non-essential goods created industrially. reduced population, as mentioned above, would help substantially.

changing the way products are packaged could be another huge win. related to that would be to reduce/eliminate long distance shipping of products (shipping and other logistics often drive the requirements for packaging, aside from theft prevention).

mushrooms. not necessarily psychedelic. years ago some dude did an experiment where he cultivated mushrooms on top of huge trash dump heaps. in some relatively short timeframe (more than a year i'm sure, but less than 10), those heaps were brimming with life. shrooms have serious cleansing and filtering attributes.

best option of all: leave civilization and mass society to the dustbin of history.

Ironically, if every adult on this planet had a magic shroom event it might just jolt them into living more simple unstressed lives, which means a lifestye not driven by status and ego reinforcement consumerism. I thought your -- "best option of all: leave civilization and mass society to the dustbin of history." was a tad on the gloomy-doomy side reminiscent of JZ's pessimistic schtick, also A-zed's. I don't harbor these negativities but still am aware of the dire condition of global environmental problems because I rest upon my laurels by living a responsible and empathic existence. If everyone lived like me the world would be wonderful. I can compress a used diaper into the size of a deck of playing cards. I carry a reusable bag whilst shopping, I love my old clothes and repair them. I grow chard and bulk buy lentils so that I can survive on a dollar a day. I am opposed to tourism because WHY go somewhere just to consume so you can brag about your worldiness, when infact your mind is enslaved by false values?
Be happy and embrace your humble parochial mediocrity, cos at the end, that's the only authentic thing left which shines because everything else you owned is biodegradable.

"the primary approach, imo, should be to dramatically reduce consumption"

Very liberal, bruh.

At a mass-scale, this can hardly be achieved by any anarchist that ain't sitting on a key position of power.

At an individual or even communal scale, this has no effect on wider consumption patterns.

Also look into why people consume so much. It is to me in at failed attempt at coping with their miserable lives devoid of soul and pleasure... Or a lack of a better narrative that gives a new meaning to their lives where consumption becomes a waste, and everything is about creation (and destruction) and DIY skills.

Self-appreciation for starters makes daily life better and less needy for junk. Self-appreciation is also the very opposite to everything society does.

and this is why communists say only a communist state can handle all mass problems and solve climate change challenges on a global scale

And 'til then... well let's just be consumer chumps and call the cops on sex offenders, as we don't yet have the communist system to radically tackle these issues with "better" tribunals.

While explaining his ongoing work to "prepare humanity to become a multiplanetary species", Elon Musk said "The most common error of a smart engineer is to optimize a thing that should not exist." and the he was an "almost pathological optimist" and had to have been in order to attempt the things he does. The dustbin of history is being optimized. Trash-brain interfaces are being optimized by Neuralink.

I think you're right about the mushrooms, instead of developing technology in the short span of the end of a civilization, why not make the best of the wisdom of beings that have evolved for millions of years and are said to be the base of ecosystems, making up 30% of topsoil mass in the form living and dead mushrooms, as well as other life-forms. How to leave them to it? How to give them space to do their thing? Or what?

Because 'rooms never became anything else than a niche commodity for dopehead subcultures and their milieus of fuzzy-minded derelicts.

The Pont-Saint-Esprit LSD Poisoning case was the only instance of a more widespread use of hallucinogenic drugs.

While it'd be theoretically a groundbreaking thing to put billions of people worldwide on a supermassive psylocybin trip, the practicality of it ain't any better than abolishing prisons and the police overnight. This is dumb pipedreaming that can only come from the slow brains of stoners...

Did you even comprehend my mushroom comment? Not talking about tripping (though that's not a bad idea), talking about the incredible attributes of all kinds of mushrooms to detox and filter. From soil to water, shrooms can clean em.

Regarding my own sewage, I have some practical experience and a few ideas for dealing with it, but I have few ideas about dealing with others' other than towards avoiding poisoning myself. As for landfill, I imagine it will get dug back up at some point for all those metals and plastics. If it doesn't burn or get washed into the sea it'll likely become the last hill to fight on.

Perhaps I was too subtle. My naivety is predicated on a lack of technical knowledge, while my original response was to question to what extent plastics and metals (amongst other wasted resources) can be eradicated from yours and my wanting.

I am well aware of many of the realities that exist elsewhere, yet what I am not aware of is the practical knowledge those folk use to negate their poisoning and constraint to unhealth. For instance I am aware of how water filtration systems, utilised by individuals and groups in Bangladesh, to counter arsenic poisoning are built, while I am unaware of how to or whether I or my friends might be able to filter a river being strewn with shit downstream.

What pertinent knowing exists now, but is being neglected, overlooked, hoarded, cached, ignored or plain lost to the wrist swinging of current comforts? I refuse destinies of merely hearing about scavenging trash and "swimming" in cess until finding myself aggrievedly doing the same. I have no desire for the white knight coming to save me with his "only if..."

Humanure composing is the easiest way imo. Not a technique for 8 billion people, but then this planet ain't for 8 billion people either.

by cathrynne valente, and thought it was a really interesting follow up to desert. for folks who like fiction...

(does anyone not like fiction?)

This seems to be in response or related to China's decision and other areas to curb down on the trash it imports from North America and the recycling of plastics, glass, metals produced by NA. There's even a new useless field in academia created to study how it'll impact people in NA and anews is here to poll users of this site for contributing thoughts to this new useless field. Fucking LOL!!! It's a double bogey. In NA they lack garbage-to-electricity plants and will miss out on selling the fly ash from those plants scrubbers and selling the electricity produced. The academics in NA realize this means the chances they might have to personally look at piles of trash slightly increases and they're not too keen on that prospect. The new, bright idea this field came up with to solve this pressing issue is to change the behaviors of people en-masse. Brilliant. I bet the "holistic" approach took them a few years of "research" to come up with.

There is no solution that's environmentally friendly in the matter of trash. Life on earth will be fine regardless of what is done with it. I'd go with burning it and trying to extract the energy from it.

Someone brought up Elon Musk on here and took him seriously lmao. I wasn't expecting a follower of the Cult of Musk to be on anews. None of the "attempts the things he (Musk) does" hasn't already been done and/or tried like 60+ years ago.

This topic need not be in response to any news flash or trending topic, trash and landfills have been a problem for decades in many places, not just North America and China. Many civilizations and cities have continuously struggled with their waste. Overcrowded cities and polluted rivers, Engels wrote about that, and if you go back, all historians wrote about that problematic aspect of dense settlements.

The term N.I.M.B.Y. (Not in my backyard) is used because no one in their right mind would want a landfill, an incinerator or for that matter an open mine pit or a factory next to their home. China's coasts and many other countries' are polluted not because of landfills. but because of industry and commerce (big cargo all the time ships). Currently a lot of countries sell their scrap and junk metals to China, but not most kinds of trash. No one is keen on the prospect of piling trash where they live.

United States, being almost a whole continent, can move trash around from state to state in trucks or trains, so if one landfill closes, it's not as big a deal as countries which have more limited space to dispose of their trash. In Arizona, some years ago they displaced houses to expand a landfill. In UK some years ago, a landfill shut down after it was overshadowing a row of walk-ups, threatening tip over. In India, landfill landslides have killed people. That's just off the top of my head.

Burning trash is toxic, the ash themselves are toxic. Are you a shill for incinerators?

Retired garbage hauler here...Couple of notes.
1 garbage compactors are a pretty standard tool of industry, Still generate 100's of tons of waste a year.
2. Garbage burners for Energy. I know the plant we used in Mpls actually worked pretty well. Met EPA qualifications anyway, still could be cleaner.
3. Modern NA landfills are lined, vented and undergo ongoing testing to make sure they don't leak into the groundwater.
4 "Special waste" such as medical or biohazardous waste is autoclaved or microwaved to kill contaminates before they hit the landfill.
5 Dangerous industrial wastes, solids, liquid or gas, are transported by specially trained individuals. To Hazmat landfills. Here we need to pay attention, said landfills seem to end up on indigenous land. I know Ca. (where I live now) has hazmat transfer stations, but almost all of our really hazardous waste goes to North Dakota and Texas.
How to handle this? Well, I noticed in my job that seniors tend to create much, much less trash than younger folks. Less pre-made food. Plastic trash has to make up a good 50% of family home waste. Less plastic, less trash. In the early days of garbage hauling food waste primarily went to farmers, to feed hogs. Paper and cloth waste were normally burnt by the residents, we then picked up the ash. (Coal too) I've dug out more than one coal cellar in my day. Said ash was used in icy alleys during winter. Metal and glass waste normally went to scrap haulers. and plastic was used much less.
Know this, I've hauled commercial, residential, industrial and hazardous/ bio-hazardous waste. Residential and commercial trash (restaurants, apartments, hotels and such) and while the trash flow could be handled in better ways, it pales in comparison to the sheer volume of Industrial and medical waste.
The obvious answer is to end capitalism, changing the nature of production and disposal of waste products as a matter of course. Also, a "how much shit do you need?" attitude, enforced would help quite a bit. Finally, if you can raise, garden, or make it yourself, do so.

Re: 2. & 3.

EPA only regulates some harmful emissions, while other emissions known to be harmful are not. Often the can operate violating regulations for a long time before they’re closed and the damage is done. Older landfills which were built without the proper lining that is now required, are still operating and over capacity, long overdue to be closed, and yet aren’t, because they wouldn’t be able to deal with the incoming trash so easily.

The EPA overlooks many superfund sites. Quite literally, just staring at them, not doing anything significant to remedy the damage done.

Non-retired, long-time garbage recycler here...

1- Yes, and they can be easily sabotaged, so the businesses using them will see conventional waste or compost bins as cheaper alternatives, at least for a while. Also, conventional waste bins also send all the crap to landfills. Duh. The goal of doing this is to allow for dumpster-divers to help with waste reduction (which is one of the more external benefits of dumpster-diving).

2- EPA qualifications are irrelevant, in a world where corporations are more powerful and wealthy than "your" government. Believe in Santa? That's fine, but I don't, since 2007 at least. Sleep well, kid.

3- Being in Canada, I can testify that the US is using the border as extra EPA regulations loophole for dumping toxic waste from their landfills in cross-border lakes and rivers. Provincial and Federal governments don't seem to give a fuck about the matter as it's more important to them to keep humans from crossing the border, as well as some black market goodies.

This is in addition to the critic of the other commenter of course. There's for instance a well-known issue like this, in Lake Massawippi and Lake Memphremagog where massive landfills near the US-Quebec border have been contaminating these lakes and their rivers for years, if not decades.

Always fun to come across statist zealots on this site. lol Gotta love the input!

yep, i lived for a few years not far from memphremagog, and took my miniscule amount of trash to the landfill there by newport. that landfill was constantly wanting to expand, despite the fact that it has been shown unequivocally how nasty the lake has become - primarily (but not solely) from that landfill. not to mention that fact that THAT landfill is literally the only one in the state of vermont. so not only does every transfer station in the state haul their trash to that landfill (transportation that affected road maintenance as well as all the related pollution etc), but they fucking take trash from other states as well!!!!

the green mountain state should be called the trash mountain state. and their regs around water usage and disposal are literally insane and absolutely counter productive in many, many cases.

As far back as 1970 there were landfills in NY wirh more copper by percentage of weight in them than copper mines being worked for profit that same year. Either future people or possibly a successor species will no doubt mine these shallow and easily accessable deposits. Once a few centuries have passed for the garbage to rot it will be a lot easier to handle.

Exhaustion of mineral deposits is thus less of a problem than expected, though alloying elements (e.g. moly) might become scarce.

“We’re losing biodiversity and ecosystems do to extractivism and pollution/trash overflowing landfills! What do we do?!”

-“Uhhh... put trash in open pit mine to make landfill, dig hole in landfill to make open pit mine..”

“But..but how does that help restore ecosystems or preserve and foster biodiversity?”

“uh.. mining for copper go brrrrr”

. . .

“Mommy mommy, we want clean air, water and food!”

- “We have clean air, water, and food at home.”

The clean air, water and food at home: copper mined from a landfill.

Graveyards are landfills. Besides all the nasty chemicals the pump corpses with, there you may also find such oddities like people who died from radium poisoning and will remain radioactive for centuries.

Holistically speaking, planets and moons are trash blobs or mud balls kept in the spotlight and made livable on by burning flares of trash gas. Trash, oil, blood, shit, polypropylene carbonate and DDT is the offal of life and entropy, buckets full of pizza and beer vomit are welcome nutrients, even some radiation might give you some webbed feet and make you a good underwater hunter. Live and trash, shit, bleed, vomit, wipe ass, die and stop worrying about the smell. Would you rather the sterile odorless vacuum of asphixiating space?

As toxic as you may be, judging by the trash comments with which you litter this site, I’m sure you still wouldn’t enjoy it if your living space were filled with any of those awful things you mention.

How is equating moons and planets to trash an argument to...hmm, no argument there. I guess you just wanted us to ignore the topic and pay attention to you. We can’t live in the Moon or Mars, and the Earth’s orbit is already filled with trash. We can barely live on Earth because of people like you, and I’m just referring to how annoying you are.

Grandparents and great grandparents: 1. saved everything that could be reused or bodged into working for some other purpose, they lived through the great depression and had to. 2. buried trash in their own backyard. granted trash then was more ceramic, glass, metal. That our discards today are more, or seen as more, toxic and what do we do about it?, screams of yet another crisis that isn't necessarily one anarchists need to worry about, can do anything about, or should bother with because of the consequences of attempting to do the aforementioned leads easily to a non-anarchist path. you will never get to feel good about civilization, embrace the waste. Hoarders choosing to live amongst their own trash and liberal yuppies in sterile modern condos filled with chic goods: its all trash. does it matter that its locked up in a house (which is also trash) or shoved in the ground?

"Few can imagine their proper management by states and corporations. Can we imagine their proper management without them?"
This is a variation on the "but who will take out the trash in your anarchist utopia"? the thrust of this whole totw kinda sounds like that to me actually. What proper management is their besides containment over time? The problem is manufacturing exists period. Moralizing about consumption patterns and how to throw things away properly is a dead end. Behavior doesn't change like that, who the fuck knows how it does. No one has time for that shit. Look at the last 6 decades since Silent Spring was published. Perhaps in some alternate future anarcho-diy-science post collapse (actually post collapse can we have another word other than science?) will see landfills as great resources. There will be plenty of porcelain toilets to knap into arrowheads to hunt the flourishing biodiversity made possible by the human exclusion zones of landfills and other toxic sites (see: chernobyl). Maybe the next frontier for the billionaires will be to the center of the earth and we good citizens of earth (and not mars) will shame them into taking our trash with them to incinerate and then pop out of volcanos as a rainbow of glitter and good vibes.

You must have a pretty big backyard to put all that junk in your trunk.

You don’t have to worry about it until you do. Until then, carry on blissfully, trash is carried away from and buried near others, and sewage is underground in the cloacas of the city. Out of sight, out of mind. What a bummer to even bring it up. Eww, so yucky. It’s not even bothering you right now. Can barely remember it bothering your grandparents. I think your reaction is a reflection of the modern logic towards waste as described by Zygmunt Bauman, not so much a hip okayness with waste and getting dirty.

You willfully hand your trash to the state or corporations, so that it can be imposed on others. Where is it deposited? Near which neighborhoods? In the CEO’s of industry backyard? Indigenous land? Anti-speceism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism not concerns when it comes to trash? Which disposable population segments have to deal with trash and cleaning it? What’s its overlap with prisoner/ex-convict population?

I’ve seen protests of people leaving their trash in front if the town mayor’s office and house. They weren’t anarchist, but they seemed to have made a connection that feels far fetched to you. UAWM and some riots in NY in that era poured their trash on the streets and lit them on fire. Dumping trash, just like growing and eating food, can be done with intention and purpose, not just as a passive consumer. If you’re familiar with molotov cocktails,you know you can weaponize your trash, and build with it; shit can be flinged, and used for manure. Your imagination won’t get dirty if you use it to think about this topic, don’t worry.

No. It’s not “who takes out the trash in your anarchist utopia?” but how do you (individually, ostensibly anarchist) deal with trash today in this capitalist dystopia and how would you adapt to waste management services failing/collapsing in your area?

Rainbow of glitter and good vibes? You seem to be high on hope-ium. Or maybe the elation of listening to Blank Banshee’s latest album has you imagining thriving lush low-polygon post-human landscapes.

Another comment where practical questions of day-to-day matters are hand-waved away by conjuring happy campers or future primitives various generations from now. Dealing with trash problems? Not In My Generation!

Of course, as anarchists, there’s no duty, no imposition, no morals, no obligations, right? Except the obligation to be contrarian to practical concerns, of course, specially that. The more extravagantly, the better.

Indiscriminate littering, Individuals Tending Towards Trash. Sterile condos and yuppies are trash you say, incinerate their housing (indiscriminately) and burn the passerby (indiscriminately). Or?

you're attempting to put responsibility on people who don't have it. none of the people reading this have the power to do fuck all about where trash gets put, to yank one activist example out of your rsponse. sure, we can protest about environmental racism, as we can protest about various kinds racism everywhere, and maybe you're a believer in the efficacy of protest, which leads down a different (if related) rabbit hole.

the previous poster said nothing about people being trash, you bad-faith arguing twerp. learn to read.

and why you trying to throw class shade on the previous poster? get this weird manipulative rhetoric off my beloved anews .

"you're attempting to put responsibility on people who don't have it."

People choose what degree of responsibility they want to assume.
If you see a hurt person or an animal, you could just walk right along, or you could choose to take them to a vet or doctor or help heal them yourself if you have the skills.
If you eat a banana, you could compost a peel if you wanted, or you could throw towards your neighbor's house. Either way you could say "it's not my responsibility, I didn't grow this banana, i just ate it".
If you someone splashes you with a bucket of diarrhea, will you say "I'm not gonna wash myself, it's not my fault they decided to make me dirty, they should come here and wash me"?
We deal with shit that is not our fault everyday, because it's stuff that affects us directly and no one else will deal with it.

"none of the people reading this have the power to do fuck all about where trash gets put, to yank one activist example out of your rsponse."

This isn't any different from any of the other issues anarchists choose to concern themselves with. People have more power over their own trash than they do over many things they busy themselves with everyday. Your taking waste management services for granted, you feel entitled to them, "where trash gets put" assuming you never put it anywhere yourself.

"sure, we can protest about environmental racism, as we can protest about various kinds racism everywhere, and maybe you're a believer in the efficacy of protest, which leads down a different (if related) rabbit hole."

If you get the shit end of the stick, what do you do? It's about discussing ideas about what to do, not preemptively discarding the possibility of doing anything. How to deal with waste? It's only an irritating question if you don't want to deal with it. Sure, the answer is not "protest waste". We know protest is not the answer to anything.

"the previous poster said nothing about people being trash, you bad-faith arguing twerp. learn to read."

The previous poster said: "Hoarders choosing to live amongst their own trash and liberal yuppies in sterile modern condos filled with chic goods: its all trash." I took this statement along with their general flippant disregard towards whoever trash disposal will harm and turned it into a hyperbole for my own amusement. Learn how to breathe through your nose.

"and why you trying to throw class shade on the previous poster? get this weird manipulative rhetoric off my beloved anews ."

Haha, you're either over-sensitive and/or projecting with regards to this, I really don't see it. If you want this "weird manipulative rhetoric off your beloved anews" maybe you should protest. Or maybe "none of the people reading this have the power to do fuck all about where trash gets put".

Add new comment