Amidst the durable goods orders, and factory output analyses and aging inventory evaluations that typically are the focus of the dismal science, there lurks an economic indicator that is highly accurate and smelly, too — garbage.
A study has concluded that, of the 21 categories of items shipped by rail, the one that has the highest correlation to Gross Domestic Product is garbage. Trash has an 82 percent correlation to economic growth. The correlation is logical, and obvious, because the more people produce and purchase, the more they throw out. So, if you want to assess how the economy is doing, keep an eye on the volume of refuse collected by your friendly neighborhood garbagemen.
Unfortunately, the garbage indicator isn’t predicting good economic news — carloads of waste are way down. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed that the decline no longer accurately predicts economic activity and instead reflects that our neighbors have finally gotten serious about recycling and composting and other trash-minimizing activities.
Every Thursday, the houses in our neighborhood put their trash out by the curb for pick-up. When I walk the dogs on a Thursday morning, I’m always amazed by the cumulative output, from just one neighborhood in just one suburb of just one American city.
My goal therefore is to make sure that our house sets out the smallest amount possible. I toss every bottle, aluminum can, milk jug, and other plastic item in their recycling bin. I break down even the most sturdily constructed cardboard box and throw every stray scrap of paper — newspapers, brochures, mail-order catalogs, and junk mail included — into the paper recycling container. I put food scraps into the garbage disposal and rake yard waste into the beds behind our shrubs. I know these efforts are small, but the multiplication effect means that little efforts can have large consequences.
In any case, I feel better knowing that our garbage footprint is as small as possible. Some years ago I had a case involving landfills that addressed how they are constructed and operated. I learned how they are lined, and capped, and how leachate — great name for the fluid that inevitably seeps out of crushed garbage, isn’t it? — is collected. Landfills are carefully regulated and engineered, but the fact remains that they are permanent pockets of garbage buried across the landscape that will forever limit how those locations can be used. I don’t want our little household to contribute unnecessarily to their proliferation.
My name is Penny. I am mad today.
I like getting into the forbidden areas, because they have the most good stuff. I figured out how to get into the best forbidden area of all. Then I could pull out the trash can, look inside, and always — always! — find something to eat. One time, there was a big part of pizza in there. I’m not kidding! That really happened! Now that was a good day.
Then one day the trash can was gone and this thing was there. I hate this thing! I know the good stuff is in there, but I can’t get inside. It is too slippery for my paw to pull out. When I knock into it with my head I can’t open it. I can still pull out the paper towels and boxes of trash bags from the forbidden area so other members of the pack can see how smart I am. That’s fun, but getting at something to eat is what is really important. And now I can’t, and it makes me mad.
I am hungry!
It is the eternal triangle. Man creates garbage. Dogs crave garbage. Man tries to figure out how to keep dogs out of the damn garbage.
In this colossal, unending struggle of elemental natural forces, there are few clear-cut victories. Once a dog figures out how to get into the trash, the lure of rooting around and potentially finding some marginally edible food is just too strong for the canine psyche to resist.
So it has been with Penny. She’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she pursues the prospect of chow with an awesome, single-minded intensity. A few months ago she figured out that we kept the garbage in the cupboard under the sink. She began scratching and nosing at the cupboard door until she established a kind of toehold that allowed her to open the door a crack and get her nose inside — and once that happened, all was lost. The garbage can would be pulled out and knocked over and interesting contents removed. Penny also discovered the fun of shredding paper towels. We then discovered that there are few things more irritating than picking up damp wads of chewed paper towel remains covered with dog saliva.
We tried disciplining Penny. (Yeah, right!) We tried securing the cupboard doors, but that didn’t work, either. So we broke down and bought a new garbage can, one of those old-fashioned aluminum types where you step on a lever and the top flips open — and that has done the trick. Now Penny walks around with a hangdog expression. Underneath that morose exterior, however, she is no doubt pondering, with steely determination, how to get back into the garbage.
Man 1, Dog 0 (for now).