A World Without Garbage? #FoodForThoughtFriday

In 1966 the Swiss novelist Max Frisch wrote in his literary sketchbook:

“Are you sure that you are truly interested in the preservation of humanity, even if you and all your acquaintances aren’t anymore? Why? Bullet points suffice.”

About twenty years later he published a questionnaire with several questions like this. Here, he opens with the same question about our interest in the preservation of humanity, however puts the follow-up question a little different: “If yes, why are you still acting the way you do?”

This shift is interesting, isn’t it? In terms of environmentalism, we could even ask this question about the planet.

We know about climate change, why do we still buy stuff that is shipped around the world? We know about plastic in the ocean, why do we still support plastic producers with our money? Why are we still acting the way we do?

In his sketchbook Frisch further asks:

“When did you stop believing, that you’re getting smarter? Or do you still believe it? Write down the age.”

Put a little differently, you might wonder whether we actually still believe in smarter choices for our planet? Or have we given up already?

In Frisch’s spirit of opening up new areas of conversation I tried to assemble a garbage related questionnaire. It is not supposed to denounce anybody. Rather, it is a funny tool to get to know yourself a little better. However, I am a little curious. So, feel free to share some of your thoughts in the comments. Have fun! 😉

  1. Can you imagine a life without trash? Name three change of habits that would instantly reduce your trash.
  2. Do you sometimes put off bringing out the garbage because it grosses you out? If yes, why did you put it there in the first place?
  3. Do you think efficient garbage collection fosters waste reduction? Why? Why not?
  4. Have you ever thought about what life is like for a garbage collector? If yes, describe briefly.
  5. If there weren’t any trash, would it make you sad, if all the garbage collectors would have to find a different (and maybe less smelly) field of work?
  6. If everybody stops causing waste, what would that do to the economy? Bullet points suffice.
  7. Do you have enough time?
  8. If you could spend less time on managing your garbage, what would you do instead?
  9. Think about what you want to pay attention to. Is it garbage? Make a list and prioritize.

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Filed under #FoodForThoughtFriday, Article, Beginner's Guide, Book Recommendations, Magazine


  1. Re: #1: When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I chose the option of paying less in garbage collection fees for monthly instead of weekly pickup. They still picked up my recycling every week or every other week. Since I moved from there, they’ve added compost pickup. Trash pickup continues to go down in volume in Portland, so yes, I can sort of imagine a world, perhaps not without trash, but with less trash, or at least with less “trashed.” Sadly, here in New Orleans, my neighbors continue to bag their recycling, even though the city doesn’t recycle plastic bags. And I’m required to pay for twice weekly pickup, even though I hardly require it. The city rates the success of Mardi Gras every year in terms of the amount of waste generated by the parades – all those plastic beads that land on the ground, and other trash.
    Re: #4 and #5: I do think about these guys. I don’t think they get the appreciation they deserve, and I have the feeling that they might feel embarrassed that this is their job. When I was a kid, you could really insult someone by telling them they were going to “grow up to be a garbage collector.” But at least they get to ride hanging onto the truck, and feel the wind in their face, and they’re not stuck behind a desk all day. A boy I went to high school with became a garbage collector. He reached into the back of the truck one day to grab a magazine, and his arm got caught. He got pulled in and was crushed to death. So, no, I would not be sad if their jobs went away, and they might not be, either.

  2. 1: I can easily imagine MY life without trash. As far as the rest of the world, I can imagine it in the same way that I can imagine a world without hunger, war, or the exploitation of animals. It’s more difficult. With the direction our world, specifically the U.S. as a major world power, is going, it’s just difficult to picture all the necessary steps toward making it happen come to fruition. I am remaining optimistic, though!
    3: No, because if it is made to be quick and easy, people never think twice. One day at my former apartment complex, the trash compacter broke. It was not long before trash was piling up and spilling into the street, actually blocking the road, not to mention the stench. This understandably upset people and although they blamed the broken compacter, they were also forced to look at the results of their actions. I believe it is events such as this when garbage collection fails that foster waste reduction rather than trash being taken “away” efficiently–out of sight, out of mind.
    4 & 5: Yes, I wonder if they ever get used to the stench! I can imagine how frustrating it is not only to see the volume of waste people create but also to see people throw away perfectly good items (ex. furniture, TVs). It is true that there is a huge number of individuals who work in this field. However, like many other practices that become obsolete, waste management would be replaced by other industries such as the manufacture of more reusable items to replace the once disposable. Yes the inevitability of of lost jobs saddens me, but that is the nature of societal change.
    7: Yes. Everyone has enough time to address important issues such as waste reduction, even if it means spending less time on activities and habits that do not have a positive impact in order to create more time for ourselves.

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