This archive is garbage

Today I visited the Ontario Science Centre with my sister and her two friends.  Besides the fact that Body Worlds was amazing!!!, my attention was also stolen by one of the older exhibitions.

It focused on garbage, but specifically on Toronto and its landfills.  There were a few components of this exhibition, including a selection of the materials that go into our landfill (metal, paper, fabric, plastic, food...), how much of each category makes up a landfill, but most importantly (for me) the surprising findings on the decomposition (or lack thereof) of biodegradable products in landfills.

In the past, it was assumed that any food or paper thrown into a landfill would simply decompose amidst the things that wouldn't (at least not quickly).  That's what I thought anyway.  Well, groups that began raising awareness around what's in our landfills caused many to discover that this wasn't that case.  Long story short, lack of oxygen due to everything being compacted and squished meant a longer decomposition time.

Garbage landfills are like time capsules, the exhibition informed me.  However, apart from all the stuff we expected to be there, like old license plates, pop bottles and clothing, people were also finding preserved newspapers and even mummified food!  MUMMIFIED FOOD!

[That was pretty shocking.  At least to me, who used to believe that all the food in landfills just became wonderful albeit buried compost no one could access.  Well, apparently not in all cases.]

After staring at a mummified piece of corn on the cob for a few seconds, and marveling in the fact that garbage in a Toronto landfill can lead to fascinating finds from the past, I started to think about whether or not this is an archive I could (or should) really treasure.

Sure, anything I decide to throw out now that might become an interesting keepsake in the future, I could feel better thinking that it's being preserved for future generations in my own generation's garbage landfill.  Hm.  Hm. Although it's neat to think of landfills in terms of preserving (or even saving) interesting items from the past, I'm forgetting that landfills are a problematic solution to a larger problem.  And that I've just...romanticized a landfill, and justified by lavishing it with magic and wonder.  I think I'm starting to really see how "obsession" and "archive" are related.