Sometimes I read some new information that is completely outside my own experience. I came across an article describing an unusual situation in Oslo, the capital of Norway. The city is running out of garbage. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a shortage of trash in Norway and they have been importing tons of garbage from nearby Sweden and even England, and they apparently have their eyes on the United States which generates enough trash for the entire world.
What’s going on? In addition to a very high and successful rate of recycling, Oslo burns its trash in cogeneration plants as a source of electricity. We do something similar to that on Cape Cod as the trash is collected at town landfills and then taken to the Southeastern Massachusetts Resource recovery Facility (SEMASS) in Rochester, where it is also burned to generate electricity.
Now this shortage of trash must seen alien to those of us in the states. Go on any road, or visit any neighborhood, and you will see garbage and trash everywhere. I dare you to find a well traveled road in the U.S. that isn’t littered with cigarette butts. Plastic bags and water bottles, styrofoam cups, potato chip and candy wrappings are all part of our “natural” landscape here.
And it’s more than just being unsightly. When these items, particularly plastic products, end up in the ocean, they become death traps and hazardous materials to marine animals. As the plastic breaks apart it morphs into smaller particles that become a constituent of the plankton. No one knows what this must be doing to the oceanic food web, but it can’t possibly be good.
So why can’t we be like Norway which also leads the world in the purchase of electric cars? It’s not an easy question to answer, but I believe it’s because we have become accustomed to plenty of everything. With a few unfortunate exceptions, most Americans have too much of everything. We have an obesity problem, not just on our bodies, but in our consumption behavior as well.
We use too much energy, too much water, and too many resources. We have a throwaway mentality even though there is no “away.” We don’t recycle enough, and we are all bombarded with advertisements instructing us to consume more and more. We have designed an economy based on excessive consumption and waste, and this squandering of natural resources has led to costly environmental and public health damage.
So why again can’t we be like Norway? There is no practical reason why we can’t, but it will take a paradigm shift in our culture and our collective attitude towards the environment that sustains our population.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.