Tuesday July 16, 2013 | 09:05 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

In 1955, LIFE magazine published its now-famous article, “Throwaway Living.”

The era of disposable everything was meant to be civilization’s next great leap. Families were going to be freed from the burden of cleanup. Factories would always have customers for their “stuff.” It was going to be great.

Fast-forward two/three generations. This is what throwaway living looks like in 2013:

(Washington, DC parade, winter 2013 - seen on Twitter)

In 2011, the US created 250 MILLION tons of trash. Of this, about 1/3 was recycled or composted, leaving some 163 million tons to go to landfills & incinerators.

163 million tons of pure trash. If in the course of living our lives, and trash trucks lumbering down streets, only 1/10 of 1% of that trash was littered, that’s 163 thousand tons of litter going into our environment every year!

Do you think we only litter 1/10 of 1% of our trash? Drive through your neighborhood after trash day. Sights like this are common:

(Saco, just down the road from my condo)

Trash happens. Which is why I find this on my beach:

That photo shows only the food-related debris washed into one Maine beach, week after week, over the course of a year. A protected, untouristed beach. In the height of summer it can be completely empty. This junk didn't come from local beachgoers. It came from the Gulf of Maine, dumped there by city storm drains and the outwash from distant shores.

How many of the following wrappers can you recognize, or do you have in your fridge/cabinets?

I’ve got them too. We all do. This is reality now. Outside a truly radical restructuring of life, it’s almost impossible to avoid them. And even if we think we’re throwing them out properly, what happens when they’re out of our sight?

Who knows.

Which comes back to the original theme of today’s blog: "Throwaway Living." If we have created a system that fouls our world with an insane amount of persistent, non-degradable trash, is that truly progress?

Or is it just laziness?

Our "good life," someone else's problem. What will our grandkids say about us & our values, when our junk is still washing up around their feet?

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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