The Garbage Depot

I own a garbage depot. Chances are you own one too. In fact, nearly every individual residence in the United States includes its own little garbage depot. But we don’t call them what they are, which is garbage depots. Instead we call them “mailboxes.”

There was a time when mail — and by this I mean so-called “snail mail” — played an integral role in our culture. It not only served as the primary means of conducting business over distances both great and small, but, crazy as it sounds, it was also the primary means by which individuals maintained personal contact with one another. What a bunch of chumps! How much richer we are for the telephone, the Internet, the cell phone, and, when all else fails, just not giving a damn about anyone, really, except ourselves. What a time-saver that one is!

But just like our appendix, our wisdom teeth, and our conscience, we have these little vestigial boxes left over, and we can’t seem to get rid of them no matter how hard we try. Truth be told, no one really seems to be trying very hard. So these little boxes, which were once simply filled with content are now content to simply be filled. With garbage.

I only empty my mailbox once every couple weeks. I’m the bane of my postal carrier’s existence, although I suspect there are even more egregious delinquents than myself. But recently I began to wonder just exactly how the numbers stack up. So I allowed my mailbox to fill for two weeks, then emptied it and analyzed its contents.

What I found were 38 individual pieces of mail, weighing a total of 3 pounds and 8.6 ounces. If that were made up entirely — or even largely — of legitimate business and expressions of fellowship and love I would count it as a blessing. However, only five of those pieces of mail were both addressed to me personally and consisted of legitimate information which I need, or would like, to know. A sixth piece was informative, but superfluous. Since that’s a judgement call, I’ll let it slide. So, that’s six pieces of mail, or a mere 16% of the total pieces of mail I received, weighing 8.3 ounces, which is a mere 15% of the total weight of mail I received.

What did the rest of my mail consist of? Four pieces were addressed to “Our Neighbor(s)” (one proclaiming “PAY TO THE ORDER OF”); six more were addressed to “Resident”; five were addressed to “Postal Customer”; one was addressed to “Residential Customer”; and one was addressed to “Our Friends At.” At least I can rest assured that I have friends out there, somewhere.

But that’s not all. Six other pieces of mail were addressed to former residents who lived, presumably at some time during the past century, at my address. Another was delivered to me by accident, being addressed to someone else in my neighborhood. Should I drop it off for her? Perhaps. It may be garbage, but it is her garbage, after all, and fair is fair. Finally, nine more pieces, although addressed to me personally, consisted of unsolicited offers for products and services which, barring a psychotic episode, I’m quite uninterested in.

Consider this: In one year, at this rate, I will receive about 78 pounds of junk mail. Consider this: In 2015 there were approximately 124.6 million individual residences in the United States. Consider this: In one year, assuming that my case is typical, nearly 100 billion pounds of junk mail will be trundled across our great nation, deposited into 124.6 million garbage depots, and then be trundled off to various dumps, incinerators, and recycling facilities after only the briefest of respites. Let’s be exceedingly generous and suppose that half of that volume is met by eager consumers happy to receive such information. That’s still 50 billion pounds of superfluity being delivered and removed, delivered and removed, delivered and removed, every year after year after year. Sometimes I think the Postal Service and the garbage collectors are matter and anti-matter, poised to annihilate one another.

At this point, I do not think it beyond the pale to wonder: Exactly what the hell is going on here?

Consider this: Each piece of that mail represents an expenditure of various natural resources. Paper and ink do not magically appear out of nowhere, after all. Nor does the energy which is spent in turning those resources into the potential confetti with which our garbage depots are assiduously, relentlessly stuffed. Consider this: All of those pounds and pounds of materials must then be transported, first from the manufacturers of the raw materials to the printers; then from the printers to those who have ordered them printed; then from those who have ordered them printed to our garbage depots; then from our garbage depots to the bottomless pits into which they are subsequently consigned. Think about how much gasoline and motor oil alone that represents. Think about how many tires are worn out in this cycle of insanity. How much power steering fluid, how many brake pads, spark plugs, windshield wipers. In point of fact, entire vehicles give their whole working lives to hauling garbage to and from our little depots. And those vehicles, themselves, take a toll in natural resources, transportation, marketing, and so on. There may be an ad for one of them sitting in my garbage depot even as I write this. What a thought for a mere human brain to contain!

So I’ll ask once again: Exactly what the hell is going on here?

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