I’ve been thinking about garbage lately. My garbage mostly. And how many paper towels I waste cleaning up cat puke because a disposable sop is so much easier than using a cloth and wringing it out and possibly risking gagging on the gaseous stench that was recently in my cat’s belly.
But paper towels aren’t the only garbage I ponder. What about all the tiny paper cups I waste when I go to the morning bakery and order café con leche? These petite paper cups are probably consumed by 30,000 people or more on this island alone every morning. I bet they are bursting out of plastic garbage bags and topping off landfills – do they decompose? I don’t know how long that would take. And don’t forget deforesting – where did they come from to begin with? Even when I order my coffee “para aquí” they give me the little paper cup instead of a reusable, washable cup. Maybe that would be a waste of water. What’s more valuable — water or trees? I don’t know. I suppose I could bring in my own cup and make a special request. I must figure out first how I would go about saying that in Spanish. A simple thing like sipping some coffee. How much trouble does it cause, really? I don’t know.
In a scene from Season II of Mad Men (which if you don’t already know is set in the 1960’s), Betty and Don Draper enjoy a family picnic with their two children on a little patch of grass alongside the road. They are out cruising in their brand new Cadillac Coup de Ville somewhere in New York State, so it is presumed that the picnic takes place on either public property or property that does not belong to them. What makes the scene interesting is that after the picnic has ended and Don has asked Betty to “check their hands” to make sure the children wouldn’t dirty up their new sweet ride, Betty swoops up the picnic blanket they had been laying on and shakes it out, ridding it of the garbage that was left on top. The red and white checkered cloth flies up into the air in one big gust and the garbage falls to the pretty green grass. She wraps up the blanket, grabs the basket and walks up to the car where her husband and children are waiting. No looking back, the upper middle class family with a brand new car leaves the garbage on the ground, not thinking twice.
I have to say, watching them thoughtlessly litter made my stomach queasy, my nose wrinkle; made me uncomfortable in general — are these the kind of people to litter? No, I wouldn’t think so. But then I remember, ah, yes, this was the ’60’s and things have changed. Did families really used to blatantly litter with no shame? I guess they did.
The Draper’s littering might seem like a meaningless detail, but if you know anything about Mad Men you know there is nothing capricious or careless about the show — everything every character says and does, every single object placement on the set along with every background noise and setting serves a purpose: to make the show seem like it’s real (and very true to its setting in history). Betty and Don littering provide yet another detail in the show that, without anything actually being said about it, provides an insightful ambiguity, which Mad Men mastermind Director Matt Weiner is renowned for.
It’s obvious Weiner has something he wants us to notice with this scene. Right before Betty Draper shakes out the picnic blanket, we also see Don give his empty beer can a toss into the heavens. As if he was throwing it just to see how far it would go. We never do see where it lands.
So I’m sitting here staring at my garbage after eating un muy sabroso desayuno, which I asked to have “para aquí” but they gave me “to go” anyway. Plastic silverware was the only option. I didn’t have a reusable cup to give to the woman who served my coffee, so once again and maybe for the third or fourth time this week, I have used and then tossed a tiny paper cup. And it makes me think, HOPEFULLY, in the future when someone makes a movie or a TV series about what life was like in the year 2015, that people will shudder, just absolutely shudder, to see so much waste going on.
As for me, right now, I’m going save my plastic silverware because maybe I will use them again someday (but its doubtful) and I’m going to throw the rest of this stuff away, I guess thankful that it isn’t Styrofoam (?) I don’t know if I’ll buy a small reusable cup and start bringing it into the bakeries and cafés with me and confusing all the baristas, but I think I probably should.
I don’t know what else to do — I’m only one person. But it makes me wonder how DID we get from the 1960’s to where it was normal for litter to fly out of car windows to now, where not only is it illegal, but it’s really, really frowned upon, perhaps even more so than cigarette smoking (another bad vice of the Drapers). Were there ad campaigns about not littering? If so, who paid for them? Was legislature passed? Did small city councils pass bills or was it handed down at the Federal/State level? How did littering go from being a careless act everyone did to completely taboo?
And writing this, I am also struck by the fact that littering is not entirely taboo everywhere. I don’t know if there are fines against it in Puerto Rico, but it certainly is rampant, regardless. As I type this I am staring at a plastic wrapping entangled in a tree. It’s not the prettiest thing to look at. And where my parents live in Tennessee, I know my mother has considered putting up a sign in her yard that says “Littering is Trashy”. Because someone throws beer cans in her yard. Probably a throwback from the 60’s who didn’t get the memo.