Waste Management = Corporate Welfare

Briefly, last summer, I had a gig requiring me to pick up litter, and sort trash from recycling, at a local park. One morning, as I was hunting detritus, a man in a car slowed to say, his mouth atwist, “People are slobs, right?” I half-smiled, didn’t reply. Once he’d driven off, I realized why agreement hadn’t leapt from my mouth: It’s not people who are slobs, it’s corp(se)orations. That’s whose litter I was picking up. Almost every item I dropped in my sack either bore, or had once borne, the name of a corp(se).

Yesterday I read a feature in a business newspaper about the push to get New York City to go zero-waste – that is, quit sending shit to landfills. Right now, handling the city’s waste is both a huge industry (worth millions – billions? – of dollars) and a massive source of shadow work. Not only do thousands of trucks travel millions of miles each year, to collect the waste and stick it elsewhere, but millions of citizens, every day, spend precious minutes rinsing, sorting, bagging, and otherwise prepping a never-ending stream of recyclables for their next pass through the downcycle. (If you’re truly committed, you pay to recycle your carefully sorted baby food pouches, potato chip bags, cereal box liners, etc., through any number of highly specific TerraCycle “brigades.”)

Why are we doing all this work? Who is it for?

For we the people, you might say – without waste-hauling, the streets would be a stinking mess (then again, this might slow motor vehicles, and save lives!). For “the Earth,” you might continue – she just loves it when we sort shit type A from shit type B and turn shit type B into astroturf! But – who profits from these enormous, never-ending expenditures of money and effort (besides some of the waste haulers and recyclers, who are paid by local businesses and taxpayers)?

That’s right – corp(se)orations. They get to make nasty, toxic, flimsy, ugly shit, sell it to us – fling it all over the lawn – and then snicker into their beer cans as the rest of us scurry to clean it up.

Waste is not intrinsic to living systems. In a forest (for example), one process feeds another; output becomes input. When we accept waste as the problem of the city, the local business, the citizen – to be solved by our sweat, our cash – we lose. Life loses.

Who wins? Corp(se)orations.

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