2100 Yr-Old Garbage and Bush


“Why am I bothering you with this?” you may ask.

TOKYO – Archaeologists digging in western Japan have excavated what they believe to be the oldest remains of a melon ever found, an official said Friday.

Based on a radiocarbon analysis, researchers estimate the half-rounded piece of fruit to be about 2,100 years old, said Shuji Yamazaki, a local official in the city of Moriyama.

The remains are believed to be the oldest of a melon that still has flesh on the rind, Yamazaki said. Previously, the oldest such find was believed to be remains found in China that date back to the fourth century A.D., according to local media reports.

The melon might have been so well-preserved because it was in a vacuum-packed state in a wet layer below the ground, an environment hostile to microorganisms that might otherwise have broken down the remains, Yamazaki said.

Read that last paragraph again. Those are the conditions under which we store hundreds of millions of tons of our garbage in landfills across the country.

I was once involved in an effort to create a solid waste district in my county. The idea was for the counties to band together to recycle as much as possible, compost as much as possible, burn whatever could be safely burned, and otherwise cut down the amount of garbage that was buried underground. Why?

Because if you build a landfill properly, you seal it so the effluence won’t leak into the land around it and get into the water supply, making it undrinkable or even poisonous. Basically, you lay down an enormous sheet of plastic, similar to but much thicker than a normal household trash bag, dump the garbage into it, cover it with another sheet of plastic and seal it like an enormous package, then bury the package under tons of earth.

Nothing can escape from that package, not even air. The converse is also true – nothing can get into it unless the seal is broken, which rarely happens. That “nothing” includes air and the bacteria that come with it, which in turn means that what we have just created is an airless, bacteria-free environment that will perfectly preserve – indefinitely – whatever is put into it.

Garbage.

Food won’t rot, paper won’t break down – in fact, biodegradable material of any kind won’t degrade. Once we dump the detritus of our throw-away civilization into a landfill and seal it in, it will remain forever in exactly the same condition.

You probably don’t know it but you’re sitting – living, working, playing – on top of billions of tons of perfectly preserved garbage, garbage that, 2000, 3000, 4000 years from now, will still be in exactly the same state as when you covered it up.

Spend just a moment thinking about that. 10,000 years from now when archaeologists go digging to find out who we were, our legacy will turn out to be, not art or crafts or books of knowledge and learning, but thousands – tens of thousands – of square miles of melon rinds, half-eaten TV dinners, and plastic packaging.

It struck me then (and it still does) that this is a sad but singularly appropriate symbol of our true culture as opposed to the one we’d like to believe we’re leaving behind. We are a society that covers up the evidence of its wastefulness and greed, that would rather hide its problems than fix them. We bury anything that doesn’t suit our image of ourselves and then pretend it doesn’t exist.

Sort of explains Bush, doesn’t it?

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