Just north of Manteca you will find either the most ironic or opportune location of an Amazon fulfillment center on Planet Earth.
Which one it is depends upon your perspective.
The 786,000-square-foot Amazon distribution center is on North Airport Way at Lovelace Road just a tossed-out chair or two along the roadside from the San Joaquin County Lovelace Transfer Center.
For those unfamiliar with the two, Amazon is the undisputed global leader in selling consumer goods while Lovelace is part of the struggling system dealing with the growing burden of consumer trash.
An average American — based on a 2019 analysis by the Verisk Maplecroft research firm — tosses 1,704 pounds into the municipal waste stream every year.
Amazon, depending upon what part of the operation you look at, is the poster child for what is wrong with consumer habits various environmental groups’ highlight.
Oceana, just as one example, zeroes in on plastic shipping materials. Their beef — or should we say what they view as fishy — when it comes to Amazon proclaiming they are working with their customers and suppliers to do everything possible to reduce plastic shipping waste is the amount of that material that makes it into the oceans where it essentially kills off fish and other marine life.
Oceana contends Amazon generates 465 million pounds of plastic shipping waste primarily known as air pillows. Amazon vehemently denies this. The company the little-old-online bookseller named Jeff Bezos built contends the 2020 data Oceana released is full of a lot of air.
But even popping the air pillow claim by 75 percent down to 116 million pounds a year which Amazon countered with, Oceana pointed out that’s still enough air pillows to circle the earth hundreds of times.
Amazon, in all honesty, isn’t the lone boogeyman. As cartoonist Walt Kelley’s character Pogo famously uttered in a 1970 Earth Day daily comic strip by the same name as he looked out over the swamp filled with discarded trash of all types, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Nowhere is that more obvious than a trip to the transfer station.
Most of the trash that at one time was touched from the A through Z repertoire of consumer product firms ranging from Amazon through Zagg and ended up in the hands of anyone of some 333 million Americans makes it exit from households and businesses via municipal solid waste collection trucks.
It is such a routine and dependable process we don’t give it a second thought.
Many of us are smart enough or conscience enough to do simple tasks, such as properly placing only what is recyclable today in 2022 in blue carts, yard and organic waste in green carts and then putting everything else that doesn’t require a trip to Home Depot (used light bulbs), the police department (unwanted medicine), the city solid waste office (spent batteries and broken electronics), and the county facility (tires, left over paint and unwanted garden chemicals) into the black cart.
Then we place them curbside or in the alley once a week for solid waste collection crews to whisk away and never to be seen again. Well, at least never to be seen again by most of us who purge our households and lives of the 1,704 pounds of trash we generate on an annual basis.
The research by Verisk Maplecroft contends Americans generate three times the waste of the planet average. Even if it is rooted in cold hard data, it is still an abstract for many of us.
It is why an excursion to a transfer station — the modern replacement of a dump — with a pickup or U-Haul load of trash or yard waste offers perspective.
On Sunday a steady stream of vehicles pulled into the transfer station. They tossed out everything from broken furniture and bicycles to cardboard boxes, large chunks of Styrofoam, wood scraps, and boxes or plastics bags jammed with a repertoire of items from broken toys, unwanted knickknacks to any household trash imaginable.
Many items that once were plopped on front porches from Amazon, Wayfair, Target and such were being dumped unceremoniously into a concrete pit where workers separated some items out before tractor-like heavy equipment pushed it away and onto a further sorting process to determine their final destinations in the waste stream whether it is a recycling facility of some sort or a landfill.
At first glance it looks like one hopeless mess.
And it certainly is much better than the mountains of exported trash we once sent to developing countries that eagerly accepted it so they could “mine” them for material to be recycled into — you guessed it — more consumer goods.
How we got from burning much of our garbage in old oil drums converted into burn barrels in alleys behind our homes and hauling off trash to big pits where it was burned and then buried has as much to do with science advancements as it did people stepping up and being more responsible. That means not simply doing right by the environment but by the community, ourselves, and future generations whether they are direct bloodline or the children, great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren of people we’ve never met.
And while many of us grumble about people dumping mattresses in the countryside or soda cups tossed on the ground, the truth is most of us need to step up our game and not just the likes of Amazon.
It’s not just an issue of trying to waste less via reusable shopping bags or making sure something that is still viable makes its way to thrift stores or sold at garage sales.
It also requires us not to contaminate recycling carts and even yard waste/organic waste carts.
No matter how you look at it there are still far too many households that are incapable of not contaminating recyclable materials in blue carts with yard waste or garbage is pretty pathetic. For any of us to point the fingers at corporations for trashing the planet or cities for not diverting more form landfills is pretty ironic. The finger can be arguably pointed more at ourselves and our neighbors.
It is not the city’s fault that what was recyclable no longer is due to shifting global economics that means contaminated recyclables are no longer viable commodities.
There are agencies and companies working on solutions to recycle more things but it is all for not if we can’t follow simple rules on what is recyclable now as opposed to what was recyclable.
If only a small percent of us in a day and age where we use an app at will throughout the day to have one or two items from multiple sources shipped our way with all of the accompanying packaging instead of trying to combine online ordering into a more orderly and less frequent process, we are making waste worse in exchange for hyper instantaneous gratification.
It takes a little thinking to put the right thing in the right cart. And it doesn’t require much more thinking to make a list of things you might need in the coming week instead of ordering them online as they pop into your mind.