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We're swimming in junk!

In the not-too-distant future, California will have one more thing to worry about. No, I am not talking about the discovery of another heretofore unknown ‘lil Schwarzenegger, I am talking about the millions of tons of debris that washed into the ocean after Japan’s catastrophic earthquake last March.

Scientists have been using computer models to follow this detritus as it moves slowly towards our West Coast. The prediction is for this mass of cars, houses, rice-cookers, bad animation and sushi to reach Hawaii by next spring. The West Coast will have to wait until 2013 or 2014 for this floating island of junk. We on East Coast, after dealing with the medical waste issue in the early '90s, can rest easy that this particular mass of trash will not be part of our reality. I hope.

An oceanographer, who has been studying ocean debris for more than 20 years, says that there is no accurate way to predict how much of the Japanese junk will reach us, since some material will break up, some items will sink, and some will run for political office. 

And then there’s the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” to consider. Raise your hand if you already know about this enormous stew of garbage twice the size of Texas that has been congregating in the Pacific Ocean since the 1950s. This patch mostly comprises plastic that, when broken down, is ingested by sea life (bye-bye sea life), or when broken down further, leeches chemicals into the ocean. Suddenly, farm-raised salmon is looking better and better.

So we have two massive islands of trash converging in the Pacific Ocean and all I can think of is the roiling tide of junk taking over my house! How provincial is that? Or is it a case of NIMBA? If it’s Not In MY Beloved Atlantic, then what do I care?

Autumn usually finds parents cleaning out drawers and closets they’ve been avoiding all summer. That’s my MO, anyway. This year, with both boys packed off to college, there were closets I hadn’t opened in years and long-neglected drawers filled to bursting with dirty combs, threads, a tie-dyed T-shirt from the “Flower Power” party at Roberts' (circa 1999), friendship bracelets, chewed pencils and the inevitable plastic bits from pens, bottles and merchandise wrappings. It would seem that I was remiss in providing the boys with waste cans because they never used them.

We’re swimming in junk over here and it’s not all my fault. Since 2001, I have cleaned out a house, a condo, an apartment and the room in an assisted living facility. I have tried very hard to be ruthless about other people’s stuff because I have so much stuff of my own. I threw away the elementary school reports cards (“Marsi needs to do less socializing”) found in my mother’s stuff, along with Dick and Jane readers that might have been worth something to a collector, but not to me. They weren’t mint, so they were out.

My mother had 15 pairs of cuticle scissors among her belongings. Perhaps she was secretly grooming cuticles all over town? My father left me with a briefcase o’ photographs, none of them labeled. How do I know whom to throw out? He also left a trove of homemade cassette tapes, only one of which I listened to. It was a tape of him snoring. This is a man who used to rate his naps on a 1-10 scale. He elevated snoring to an art form.

The past few days I’ve been helping out at my church rummage sale. After hauling all my stuff over on Sunday, I just kind of fell into unpacking and folding and talking with the other ladies who were doing the same thing I was: unpacking and folding and talking, always with an eye out for the perfect Ship-n-Shore shirt, or a great Vera scarf from the '60s. But after hauling over my four huge plastic bags and five or six boxes, I was wary of taking home any more than a small bag of goodies, lest the junk cycle begin again in my hall closet. (Did I mention that I frequent a particular thrift store with my BFF at least twice a month? More stuff!)

I am not as acquisitive as I used to be. I haven’t been furniture shopping in years, despite the fact that my family room couches have a somewhat unpleasant canine aroma to them, and need sorely to be euthanized. I have plastic bins galore in the attic, some of which haven’t been opened since we moved to this house in 1997. Why I am saving all this stuff? Am I soon to be featured on an episode of Hoarders? If I throw out their T-ball trophies, will my sons someday admonish me on reality TV?

There is no end to the amount of stuff we accumulate: lost dryer socks, strings, rubber bands. The best we can hope for is to dispose of things properly and reuse as much as we can. It would be great to employ a ‘you-bring-it-in-you-take-it-out’ policy with regards to our playing fields because whatever gets thrown into a trashcan there ends up in a landfill and not where it belongs, in recycling. 

Most of my junk drawers have now been cleared out, including the catchall drawer near the telephone. Funny thing is, a week later, it has replenished itself with more odd bits that will need to be swept out in the next purge. How did those coupons and lip balms sneak back in?

STEM is hosting its Open Space Festival next weekend at Strawbridge Lake. I’m sure they have some great ideas of what we can do to help keep Moorestown clean and green. Perhaps they know where all those missing socks end up!

Marsia Mason October 03, 2011 at 02:39 PM
Wow! I'm commenting on my own column. Apologies to STEM for missing the boat. Their Open Space Festival happened yesterday, with many happy campers in attendance. This whole empty nest thing is wreaking havoc on my brain!
nancy newcomer October 07, 2011 at 04:54 PM
Always enjoy your columns, Marsia.....Keep 'em coming!


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