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My Curbside Garbage Economic Indicator

January 7, 2011

After my recent trip to India, where garbage is omnipresent (see my travel blog at hollysholidays.wordpress.com if bicycling through developing countries with no physical preparation is of interest to you), I’ve been making comparisons about “here” and “there.”  Although India has three times as many people, and very few landfills that I could tell, I would wager we have a LOT more garbage.

Today is garbage pickup day in my neighborhood.  This morning on my walk, I was amazed at how many people’s garbage overflowed the giant bins the city provides for regular garbage, and how many had two or three full-to-overflowing recycle bins on top of that.  (By the way, are orange juice cartons and cat food cans really recyclable?)

I suppose if I wanted to be a true economic scientist about it, I would have picked through the garbage to analyze it.  But I refused. (Maybe that’s why I don’t have a Ph.D. )  Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but notice large quantities of cardboard boxes.  You know, the kind that you get when you shop online?  Maybe it’s Christmas boxes, or maybe it’s after-Christmas-sale boxes, but, regardless, the impression I kept getting was, “What in the world are all these people buying in these boxes??”  As I was wondering that, a UPS truck passed me on the dead quiet street.  To deliver more cardboard boxes.  Which will end up in the garbage.

Our curbside pickup in the city comes twice a week.  Most weeks, my husband and I don’t use the recycle bin and we barely have one bag of garbage.   I’m guessing that’s because we don’t buy very much.  Ironic, isn’t it?  When we buy more, we throw away more.

I’m torn. As an economist, I should be happy about overflowing garbage bins.  We need the consumer-driven economic activity. But, as a personal financial professional, I have to ask, do we need all the stuff in the boxes?  Where are we putting all the stuff?  What do our closets look like compared to an Indian’s?    Is all this stuff making us any happier and producing a more fulfilling life than a newly-middle-class Indian who just got their first cellphone, a member of the first generation in centuries that doesn’t go to bed hungry on a regular basis?

I didn’t see very many cardboard boxes in India.  Mostly I saw candy wrappers and newspapers left on the side of the road for the goats.  That’s what I call India’s recycling program.

Hmm, I wonder.  Do goats eat cardboard boxes?

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