The unbearable weight of stuff


Blossoms on a roadside, wild-apple tree. And good apples they are too, as I discovered last fall. Not sure what this has to do with “stuff” and garbage. But it sure makes a better sight, or site.

What will they think of us, those otherworldly beings, when thousands or millions of years from now, they reach whatever is left of our world and can hardly believe what they find?

So much garbage – deep mounds of it in what we euphemistically called “landfill sites.”

Or, if their arrival is far enough in the future, maybe the space travellers will find places where seismic acitivity has exposed thick layers of a peculiar rock largely composed of fossilized garbage; and, here and there, scattered bits and pieces of stuff  that remains strangely intact: a child’s plastic toy, a small lockbox full of keepsakes and trinkets, a porcelain bluebird on the wing.

The strangers will turn those things over and over in their hands – or whatever – and wonder at the apparent ingenuity of the long-gone beings who created such things. But they will also be appalled and confounded by the shear volume of our waste.

I confess I look around my own space these days and wonder how I accumulated so much stuff in one fleeting, human lifetime. I, who in my younger days used to think a tin cup was really all a man needed; and a change of clothes, of course; and the means to do some basic tasks. And so it goes, eventually all sorts of reasons found for living the material life, begging the question when is enough enough?

If now, when you have finally realized how precious every last moment of life is, and yet you find yourself  faced with using those precious moments to sort through your excess stuff, then enough was enough way too long ago.

So what to do? Take it all to the dump?

There’s a couple of problems with that: the first is there are a few precious things in among the stuff, things that have become more than material, that radiate feelings and connect us in remembrance to those we have loved, and lost. We can’t simply discard them. So, careful sorting, it must be:

Some things go in the recycling box, some to one marked for charitable donation, another, curbside pick-up perhaps. And horror of horrors, the dreaded yard sale? The one good thing about them is you get to meet some interesting people. But, trust me, there are much, much better ways to do that: a good, old-fashioned, country corn roast comes first to my mind, and memory. I’ll tell you all about it someday soon.

And now that I think about it, maybe we’ll do it this summer, you and I, and a bunch of other people from the global village, when my sweet-corn harvest comes in, right here at the farm at the end of Cathedral Drive.

But, getting back to the matter at hand, that being what to do about too much stuff that gets in the way of living, the second problem is taking what remains to the dump, or not.

I suppose there was a time when it seemed such places were a virtual infinity of space. Otherwise, why would we make such frequent use of them? Why did we increasingly produce and buy so many things destined not to last, that might as well have “take to the dump soon” stamped on them? Did we really save that much money? Or were we crazy?

Many of these thoughts, you may have guessed by now, are prompted by, and leading me to the local garbage/landfill crisis.

I read in the news today, the Municipality of Georgian Bluffs is slated to shut down its landfill site June 1. It’s full. They’ve done just about everything imagineable to stretch it out, but finally there’s no space left for any more garbage. Like Owen Sound, Georgian Bluffs’ garbage will be going to the Miller Waste System’s transfer station in the Scenic City for processing. And from there, according to the Miller Waste Systems web site, it will join the caravans of tractor trailers taking “solid waste” from Ontario to landfill sites in Michigan.

I don’t live in Georgian Bluffs, or Owen Sound. My home municipality, Northern Bruce Peninsula, still operates three “disposal sites.” I’ve watched the one closest to me, the Eastnor site, steadily fill up over more than 35 years. There can’t be much room left. In the best of all possible waste worlds, I’d rather send as little of my garbage-stuff there as possible.

As for Georgian Bluffs, Owen Sound, and the rest of the north Grey County area, it hardly seems like yesterday, but it was 20 years ago when the Grey-Owen Sound Waste Management Master Plan study spent the better part of a year looking for a long-term solution to that area’s garbage disposal/landfill needs.

Owen Sound’s  now-closed Genoe Landfill Site was almost out of space. Other municipalities in the north Grey area were facing a similar problem.

After a long and expensive process the study consultants recommended a major expansion of the Genoe site. That did not go over at all well with nearby residents in what was then still Sydenham Township. Even so, it looked like the joint Grey-Owen Sound steering committee was leaning toward approving the Genoe expansion option.

But suddenly and surprisingly, at virtually the last moment, a diehard, anti-Genoe, Sydenham resident took a close look at the bylaw-agreement Sydenham and Owen Sound had entered into years earlier to set up the Genoe site. A clause clearly stated any future expansion had to be approved by Sydenham council. Hard to believe, but apparently that had been overlooked throughout the study.

The Sydenham council soon met, voted against expansion, and that was the end of the study and its long-term waste management recommendation. Simply put, it was a waste of time and money.

The report sits on a shelf somewhere in an Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change office. Remarkably, a document discussing the reasons for the study and indicating that its Terms of Reference had been approved can still be found on a Ministry webpage. It was “updated” as recently as two weeks ago. But chances that it could ever be taken off the shelf and somehow used are unlikely, I was told when, curious, I made a couple of phone calls.

Meanwhile, more local garbage is on its way to Michigan.

Hear me, my children, wherever you may be now in the global village, the accumulation of material things will not make you happy or give your life meaning. It will not fill the emptiness within, or give you escape from the unbearable pain of remembering.

Too much stuff is a terrible weight on the soul and, literally, a waste of your life. And it’s a literal waste as well of the once-beautiful, little jewel of a planet that is our home. The Earth deserves better.

However hard it may be, look inward, confront, and face down your pain. And then get on with living and being the spirit, and person, you are meant to be.

A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in May, 2017


One thought on “The unbearable weight of stuff

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s