5 Byproducts of Modern Life That Are Burying Us in Garbage

At the turn of the 20th century, major cities across the world were being quite literally buried in horse shit. Then along came a savior in the form of the automobile, but that prophet soon proved false when it ever so slowly suffocated us all with its foul, petroleum-induced flatulence. It seems that the never-ending cycle of human progress has a nasty side effect of constantly threatening to bury us all under a mountain of crap, and it's certainly not over yet ...

#5. Your Old Cellphone Is Murdering the Third World

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Americans replace their phones every 18 months. Europeans upgrade almost annually. And neither of them holds a candle to Japan, where it takes just nine months for a person to deem their handheld supercomputer so arcane and primitive that it may as well have a cord and a crank start. Similar stats exist for laptops and tablets, which is great news for the companies literally telling us to destroy our phones and laptops so we can justify buying shinier ones to play the exact same game of Candy Crush. But you know who doesn't think it's such great news? Mother Nature and her unpoisoned body.

Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"Oh please; like she wasn't full of magma and fire ants already."

This year, the number of cellphones in use will likely exceed the number of people on Earth, which is ... weird, right? Are there mole people with cell reception? Regardless, this means that pretty soon there will be more discarded cellphones than there are people on this planet -- and guess where most of them will go. Now, if it were just a question of having to wade through a sea of discarded Motorola Razrs to get to work, that would be one thing, but the physical size of these gadgets is dwarfed by the density of the harmful crap they contain. Contrary to popular belief, these magical little boxes don't actually run on fairy dust; a toxic metal cocktail fuels all that Snapchatting and Instagramming. And when old electronics aren't properly recycled, they tend to leak those hazardous guts into our soil and water. In China, improper disposal of handheld electronics has already tainted countless tons of rice with cadmium, chronic exposure to which causes kidney, liver, and lung failure. And cancer. And osteoporosis. The list goes on and on, and sadly not one item on it is a superpower.

Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Unless you count moving at super-speed toward your own mortality.

The impact of trashing a device doesn't stop at pollution, because as soon as we commit those scarce metals to the landfill, more will have to be mined in order to make new iPhones -- and the mining process for one of the rarest elements found in almost every electronic device has created a real-life sequel to Blood Diamond. Coltan extraction has destroyed large tracts of Congo's rain forests and fueled rebel groups, killing millions of Congolese in the process. And thanks to the ad hoc nature of coltan mining, it's hard as hell to determine where exactly the stuff is coming from.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Despite what the cellphone rep may tell you, the answer is not "from a child's imagination."

Apparently, strip mining African rain forests for rare metals to produce high-margin consumer electronics with a life cycle of less than a year and a half isn't a sustainable model. Who knew, right?

#4. Face Wash Microbeads Are Becoming Toxic Sand

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Hey, ladies: You know those microbeads in your face wash? Those tiny dots that the cosmetics companies say agitate the dermoplexus to stimulate maximum elastorque or whatever? Yeah, those things are pretty great. Probably. We don't know -- the closest thing to a cosmetic product we have is that wad of toilet paper we use to wipe spray cheese off of our faces. We only know that microbeads are made of plain old plastic, and they wreak absolute havoc on marine life.

Paul Katz/Photodisc/Getty Images
Havoc and exfoliation.

You see, your drain is just the beginning of a very long journey for those tiny spheres of petroleum byproduct. From there, they find their way to your local water treatment plant and pass right through it (remember: microbeads), eventually settling in a lake or an ocean, where they leech pollutants from the water. In 2012, a research group found that the Great Lakes were absolutely filthy with the things, containing up to 1.7 million tiny plastic bits per square mile.

"But wait," you say, "isn't leeching pollutants a good thing?" Well, it might be, if we could somehow retrieve all the beads and dispose of them, but that's simply inconceivable, seeing as how these things are so small, they're practically invisible (why do you keep forgetting? Microbeads). So once they're full of shitty chemicals, they settle on the bottom and act all fish-egg-like, enticing marine animals to eat them.

Observer, via The Guardian
They look a lot more appetizing if your regular diet consists mainly of floating moss and terrified minnows.

So the chemicals end up in the beads, the beads end up in whatever eats them, and whatever eats them basically just lives with that mistake until their bodies can rectify that problem and eject the intruders. You know, basically the same thing you do after eating at Sizzler. Except that, unlike you, it's not over for the critters after a mere night of bargaining on the toilet with an uncaring god: A study found that it takes mussels 48 days to crap out the microplastics.

PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
"It'd really suck if we all collectively decided to go bad right now. Wouldn't it, douche?"

It's gotten so bad that even the folks profiting from microbeads have realized the problem: Some of the bigger manufacturers have vowed to discontinue the use of microplastics by 2017. So you'd better stock up now, womenfolk and beautiful men: After 2017, who the hell knows what will agitate your dermoplexus? Robots, probably. With their uncaring claws.

#3. There's a Looming Piano Crisis

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Home entertainment is an ever-evolving beast. Reading gave way to radio, which in turn gave way to television, which in turn gave way to the Internet, which will in turn someday give way to 4D Immersive DongVision (it's coming, people, in every sense of the word). But before any of that electrical wonderment came sizzling along, there was the piano.

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Top notch for sing-alongs; less helpful when surfing for porn.

A little less than a century ago, having a piano in your home was akin to having the latest console. The rise of mass production meant that even those who normally couldn't have afforded such a luxury delivered to them on the backs of Dickensian orphans could still cull their very own piano from the herd of cookie-cutter instruments. The problem is that these new, cheaper pianos were never meant to last forever.

Today, everybody and their grandmothers (mostly the grandmothers) has a piano sitting under an inch-thick layer of dust that's simply not worth restoring -- especially not when you consider the fact that you could purchase a nice newfangled electronic keyboard for way less than the average cost of a piano restoration. Much like their owners, as the years progress, these mass-produced pianos will succumb to old age. What are you supposed to do with a giant pile of wood and metal that you can't even give away for free on Craigslist?

Marbury/iStock/Getty Images
P4M/W, willing to do complex chord positions.

Well ... you dump it, of course. You push it to the curb and hope your garbage man is feeling strangely generous today; you slip it into an alleyway where it will function as a condo for plague mice; or, if you have a serious lack of concern for your own life and limb, you bust that big mofo down into easier-to-manage scrap. But that last option is difficult, namely because the incredible tension on the piano wires transforms the instrument into a flailing death-metal booby trap that can take even an expert the better part of a day to properly dismantle.

Simon O'Dwyer, via Sydney Morning Herald
Or five minutes, an ax, and a callous disregard for eyeball sanctity.

And so the age-old tradition of offloading unwanted pianos by selling or gifting has been phased out. Now we just pile them up by the truckload and drive them off to the exotic land of Not My ProblemVille.

Jessica Kourkounis, The New York Times
"Hey, what if we just pooped inside these?"

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