Grateful for the Trashmen: My Garbage Footprint

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

6:15 Tuesday morning and the big green trash truck rumbles down my street.  The sanitation workers hanging from its sides leap down,  grab and toss the trash in a rhythmic dance of efficiency.  In almost a blink, the flotsam of the past week that washed up on the curb overnight disappears from the tree lawn.  In the giant compactor’s short trip up my long street, the vista of a reasonably neat suburban neighborhood is restored.

What would we do without them – these knights of refuse, restorers of order, these clean-slate clean-up craftsmen of our civilized society?

I’ve ruminated in this space before on the often shameful volume of trash I alone produce on a weekly basis. Although I’ve made efforts to reduce my garbage footprint through composting, not buying Styrofoam packaged food or hard plastic-shelled un-necessaries, I am still amazed and a little embarrassed by how much jetsam I jettison to lighten my personal load of consumerism each week.  I don’t like to think about how much I personally add to the unimaginable mound of detritus piling up – somewhere.

How lucky we are that the rejected refuse of our daily lives can be removed for us so efficiently each week.  I wonder what would happen if the garbage men came only once a month? Or if there were dozens of open, neighborhood trash heaps that some of us had to live next to – drive by each day? Of course, there are many places where exactly that is the reality. Lucky stars shine on us.

There is an ongoing debate in my community about switching from garbage and recycling bags to big, rolling plastic trash bins for each household.  I’m against them.  It’s not just the expense – residents would be either assessed a rental fee or there would be some sort of tax assessment. It’s more a matter of further gentrifying and sanitizing the messy and essential business of dealing with everyone’s trash. Plus, if you are not retired like me, you might not be home in the morning to roll your plastic bins back to the garage after the trash truck leaves, and so they sit there all day – just another eyesore in the neighborhood.

Somehow, it seems to me, the idea of hiding our waste in neat, clean, uniform containers removes the need to openly demonstrate and acknowledge how much of a burden each of us places on the planet from living our privileged lives.

Out of sight, out of mind.

There is value in owning our waste, I think.  While I remain grateful for the garbage men that take it away, I still think it is a good idea for each of us to assemble and package our individual waste product. Maybe this confronts us, at least once a week, with the size and permanence of our personal garbage footprint.



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