William McDonough, sustainability thought leader and author of the innovative concept and book by the same name, Cradle to Cradle, frequently poses the question in his lectures, interviews, and book, “Where is away?” In a throwaway society, when you throw something away, where is that, exactly? If we really knew the answer to the question…and I mean really understood what that meant to our planet, would we manufacture, consume, and dispose of things differently?
The ocean is one “away.” The recent PBS “Need to Know” piece is haunting, but needs to be broadcast frequently and aggressively. Most people have seen horrific images of plastic and other trash washed up on our shores; but, you have to know that there is a much greater amount that ends up floating around our oceans, suffocating our marine life, and being preserved for infinity amongst the natural habitats.
Other examples of where “away” might be: our parks, our landscape, our forests. Even when we think we’re throwing something away, it might escape, and infiltrate our environment. This mini-documentary about the epic life cycle of a plastic bag is so well done, and says so much with very little narration. Here, a plastic bag takes on a life of its own and ends up in “an ocean of plastic” amongst its friends. Is there humor in this? Yes, in a sad, very true, and poignant way.
It would be nice, and certainly convenient, if our trash would simply disintegrate into nothing, and really go away. But, it doesn’t. And the fact of the matter is that our “away” is “someplace” to our planet’s lifeforms.