The Trash Blog

American Untouchables

The problem with garbage is that it’s dirty. It smells awful, looks nasty, gives us creepy-crawly feelings, and probably is dangerous. People who work in the waste and recycling industry know all about how the world feels about garbage.

Sara Bixby, the Deputy Executive Director for Administration at the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) told us how frustrating it is when the public views the waste industry as the source of garbage.

Sara Bixby

Sara Bixby is SWANA’s Deputy Executive Director for Administration. She spoke with us about the perception of sanitation workers in the US.

“People in the solid waste industry get tainted. Because we work with garbage, people think we are dirty. Sometimes I want to say, ‘Where do you think this stuff came from?’ So often people think it’s our garbage. What’s up with that?”

SWANA’s membership is comprised of individuals who work for municipalities and private companies engaged in the waste management industry. When we met with Sara at SWANA’s offices in Maryland, she told us what she thought the future of the waste management industry looked like.

Cartoonist Aaron Lopresti created the character Garbage Man.

Cartoonist Aaron Lopresti created the character Garbage Man for the 2011 revival of DC Comic’s My Greatest Adventure series. Garbage Man seems to have fallen asleep somewhere and woken up caked with garbage. Somehow this gives him a very strong left arm. Beyond that, I’m not really sure what the story is.

The waste disposal industry has a reputation for only thinking about the end of the pipe. Garbage is a pretty diverse accumulation of items. The waste industry can supply a very broad spectrum of materials, but we need to learn from manufacturers which materials are most needed. Sara suggested to us that recyclers need to approach manufacturers and ask what materials they need.

Garbage Man often seems to make ominous or threatening statements.

Garbage Man often makes ominous or threatening statements like this one. While I am a fan of the artwork and a garbage superhero sounds pretty cool to me, I wonder if this doesn’t exemplify the issues Sara told us about: we only have one story for garbage – that it is slimy, nasty, dirty, and gross.

“But the idea that waste is a dirty nasty thing is a problem,” she said, “especially if we are going to come to an understanding of waste as a resource. If we want to look all the way back up our production chain to ask where can you use this or that waste product and people still view waste as dirty, they aren’t going to think of it as something they can use in their products.”

Garbage Man - Aaron LoprestiSara had recently been to a conference where they screened a new film about garbage called Trash Dance. She said more of this sort of thing is going to be needed if we are going to get past our ideas about the dirtiness of garbage and those who work with it.

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This entry was written by Philip and published on September 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm. It’s filed under Environmental Justice, Landfills, Recycling and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “American Untouchables

  1. Uncle Chris on said:

    Two thoughts:

    First, it would be nice if the trash stream were like the Colorado River, which is sourced from many places, rises to a huge stream, but is then diverted for so many things so that it no longer reaches its historic destination. Such would be the case if our trash were collected, funneled into a huge stream, then diverted for so many things that there would be none left to reach a dump.

    Second, will the movie feature you and Margaret?

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