Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thinking about Trash

Sometimes I think that trash cans epitomize this giant lie we tell ourselves--the lie that there is an "away" when we throw things away.  It's wonderfully convinient to have this receptacle that will indiscriminately accept all of our junk, so we don't have to look about it or feel guilty about it or think about it anymore. 

Make a mess in the kitchen?  Reach for some paper towels, wipe it up, and throw them away. It's gone! On the other hand, if I was to find a dishtowel or rag, it would be more like transfering the counter mess onto my rag, which would then just be another mess that I'd have to look at and wash later.  

Washing dishes? Finding a container for my compost and reminding myself to drop it in the compost bin within a reasonable amount of days is a whole extra step (or several)--and the all-accepting Trash Can is just right here.  All I have to do is scrape those veggies into the trash and I won't have to think about them again!

I cleaned out my backpack before taking a train trip yesterday and found lots of old papers, candy wrappers, broken pens, and receipts.  The receipt from my 3-item purchase at the grocery store was 17 inches long!  But, not having time to sort through all of this junk in my bag, it was easiest just to dump everything into the trash.  Problem solved...

I will never forget a conversation  I had with a friend in Haiti two summers ago. As we walked along the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, I commented on all of the trash that lined the road.  Mass quantities of donated clothes, shoes, and household items.  The little plastic baggies that used to contain UN water rations.  Candy wrappers, soda bottles, styrafoam.  Had we somehow been able to pick up and bag all of the trash, there would have been  no place to put it.  "In Haiti, there is no away," my friend said. "We are the 'away' for the United States and all the rich people."

To live in a city with relatively little litter, in a house with an uncluttered room and a clean kitchen, and to carry a backpack that is no longer junk-y--these are not marks of virtue. They are marks of privilege.  Privileged to believe the lie of the trash can that says that convenience has no cost, and that anything we don't want to see can be made to disappear.

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