This Garbage Civilization

What do we leave as our monuments? Garbage and landfills
6 min readJun 2


From the film Wall-E, which I haven’t seen

I worked at McDonald’s when I was 14 years old and at the end of shift I’d have to throw away any leftovers. There was a laminated sheet under the register that listed the accounting value of the stuff we sold, and it was fraction of what we sold it for. The actual value, of course, was less than negative. The theft of a life from a cow and labor from a 14 year old in order to give someone heart disease. And we just threw it away in the end. We threw the whole planet ways. This is a garbage civilization. That’s all we leave in the end.

Now, some 35 year later, my wife is moving house in Oxford and I came to help clear up. All of the stuff we painstakingly and expensively accumulated, it has no value now. It’s actually a burden. The bike we paid £150 for, the same people will buy it back for £40. The dishwasher we bought for £250, nobody even wants it for £100. It feels like I’m at McDonald’s again, looking at the secret values under the till. The illusion of consumer society disappears the moment you unwrap the packaging. It disappears once you step out of the mall or drive off the lot. Almost everything is worth less the moment you touch it. And it’s all garbage in the end. That’s all we produce if you really think about it.

What pyramids has this civilization we built, besides landfills of garbage? What have we etched in stone, besides smears of carbon and radioactivity? Even our buildings are disposable. When we were building our house in Sri Lanka an antiques dealer came over. We asked what would be of value in 100 years and he laughed and said “nothing.” Only the wood, which we had bought from an old spinning mill and which was already 100 years old. Everything new we sunk so much money into, it was all so temporary. Modern houses are just packaging for families, and when a new family moves in, half the time they tear it down.

It’s funny being on the butt end of consumerism (ie, moving house) now. All the objects I shopped so carefully for and even coveted, nobody cares about them at all. Least of all me. All of this effort goes into gathering resources from every corner of the globe to make a thing — sometimes carting it back and forth across oceans in the process — then it’s packaged and marketed and…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at