Posted by: Rodney Shaw | March 11, 2009

Hazardous Waste

I heard a consultant, probably an author trying to sell a new book, tell how to organize storage sheds. I was listening to NPR (National Public Radio), which I had not done in a while. A good friend of mine, we’ll just call her Julie here, is an NPR evangelist. She checked up on me the other day to see if I had been listening to NPR, which I had not been. I did not want to face her again without having listened, so I tuned in. NPR can be really cool in a very strange kind of way. The people talking on NPR always sound sophisticated, smooth, and filtered. They never have a lisp. And even when they talk about bad things in dumpy places, it always sounds so sanitary. It’s like the audio version of National Geographic. But that’s all fake, because I’ve been to some of those dumpy places. But it sounds cool on the radio when they do that.

The storage shed consultant wasn’t very helpful, although I must admit consulting on storage shed organization is a niche most people have never pondered. If the consultant could partner with Starbucks or Google, I’m sure there’s money to be made. There were all the usual tips for which no one needs a consultant, things like pick a day, work for an hour and then take a break, work in a circular pattern inside the storage shed, the most difficult step is getting starting, and so on.

So I listened to an expert tell me what I already knew. I am never sure how to understand such an experience. Should I feel smart because I know what the consultant knows? Should I feel envious because the consultant is making money for sharing information that I know? Should I feel alarmed that so many of my fellow humans are gullible enough to soak up every syllable of every blathering consultant who walks by? I digress.

What caught me off-guard was a statistic she cited, not the advice she offered. (Yes, it was a woman giving instructions on organizing a storage shed. She was probably vicariously fighting a battle she had lost at home.) She said the average home has a 100 pounds of toxic waste piled in the storage shed or garage, things like chemicals, paint thinner, fertilizer, and poisons. Most homes, including yours, have stockpiles of things they will never use. Either you used some of the contents and are saving the rest for another application, or you bought more than you needed, or you don’t know how dispose of it safely, or you forgot it was there, or your have a cache for the day that lone fire ant steps foot in your yard. But most of our stockpiles of hazardous materials are unnecessary and dangerous. She recommended taking them somewhere (I can’t remember where) and properly disposing of them.

That made me think about other toxins we have stashed in damp places. Bad memories, pet sins, bitterness, unforgiveness, guilt, grudges, stubbornness, resentment, insecurities, hatchets that have never been burried. Hazardous waste.

We hang onto it way past its usefulness. We know we ought to get rid of it, we just don’t. We know it is dangerous, and we can’t just dump it out in the yard (or in the Sunday school class, or at the restaurant, or in an e-mail). So we just pile it in the corner.

Getting rid of hazardous waste is always much more difficult than acquiring it. There are countless places where you can get it but very few places where you can get rid of it. There is a proper and safe way to be rid of hazardous waste, but it’s not always convenient. You have to clean it up, haul it off, and sometimes pay a fee. And there’s always that nagging question lurking in the back of your mind: What if I need this someday? It’s easier to just leave it where it is and hope the kids don’t get into it or that the fumes won’t cause cancer.

One hundred pounds of hazardous waste per house is the average. It accumulates over time. You may have more than you think.

 This article was simultaneously published in the South Texas Vision.

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