Monday, April 20, 2009


Over the summer, I saw "WALL-E", the latest from Pixar, about two robots who fall in love. The titular character is a robot left on Earth to clean-up after all of humanity has abandoned the planet because they have made too much trash. He falls in love with a space-probe-robot which the humans have sent to check up on the clean-up, hijinks ensue, and humanity returns to Earth has recovered enough to be livable, apparently. The credits roll, and we are treated to a really good montage of images showing both the progression of art in the new post-exodux society as well as the utopian world they create where robots work side-by-side with humans to create an earthly paradise.

There is a problem with all this, though. The solution to trash on Earth was to have little robots called WALL-Es (Waste Allocation Load-Lifter, Earth Class) drive around and compact the trash into little cubes, because at least this way the trash is stored more efficiently as opposed to strewn about all over the place. While aboard The Axiom, the big space-ark presented in the film, Wall-E (the particular character) encounters a few WALL-As (presumably Waste Allocation Load-Lifter, Axiom Class) in the bowels of the ship, where they compact the humans' waste into big cubes and throw them out the airlock in to the void of space. There is nothing different about this solution to the waste problem other than scale. Admittedly, you won't run out of space when getting rid of trash when using the universe as your dump, unless you're somehow creating matter (in which case you will eventually become very cold and die), but I don't see this as much of a solution to the problem. If anything it's worse, because now you've no hope of ever finding all that matter and somehow using it, because it is floating away into the void.

When the humans return to Earth, however, they are able to create a utopian society full of fresh air and healthy animals. The film conveniently skips any explanation of what the people did with all that trash which Wall-E and his deceased cohorts had failed to finish cleaning up, nor does it explain what they did to change their ways and not produce so much trash. Did they just launch all trash into space? If so, given the way their waste-production-levels are portrayed, Earth's gravitational pull is going to have problems in the future, and Doc Brown's suspicions will have been right. It's either that or they took to dumping all their trash into a plot hole, which I guess is what happened.

The movie can be called, obviously, a great bit of environmentalist propoganda disguised as a children's film, though the producers and writers deny that the message came before the love story, never mind if kids even enjoy a love story. It got me thinking about trash. Let's say that I play with a ping-pong-paddle for a while, one of those cheap toys where the ball is on a piece of elastic, and then I throw it out or something. It sits in a dump. Hundreds of years later, Wall-E finds it and puts it into a cube which then sits around some more.That's where all those end up, because no one really wants to play with one of those things. For those of you in-the-know, it's like Jimmy Merritt's auto-return football belt.

Now I could think that I am alright, because I disdain silly trifles like elastic-ping-pong-paddles, but that is akin to the rich young ruler saying "I have kept all these commandments from my youth", because I throw lots of things out even still. What happens to the potato-chip bag when it no longer contains potoato chips? What happens to all the paper towels and paper napkins that I use? What happens to my shampoo bottle when it is empty? What about the battery in my wireless mouse when it is all out of power? I generate a lot of waste, and most of it will sit around for a long time, a waste of atoms and a waste of space.

This is not a simple problem with a simple problem with a simple solution. I would like to eat a chocolate bar, but I don't think I can get one without throwing out the wrapper. I would like to wash my hair, but I don't know if shampoo comes in bottles which are recyclable. The shampoo is a good example, I guess. I could try to buy shampoo in recyclable bottles and then actually recycle them. I could buy ingredients in recyclable containers and then make my own shampoo. I could shave my head. Shampoo companies and stores could convert their distribution model to one in which I bring a bottle to the store and pay to have it filled with shampoo from a big shampoo vat. I like this last one the most, but that's because I don't know about the costs involved in changing to that way of doing things, and it seems more old-fashioned somehow (and I like old things).

This is going to take some effort.