An important social question

“Who will clear up our shit”; let me rephrase:

  1. How do we deal with waste?
  2. What kind of people deal with the most unappealing, yet necessary task
  3. How do we deal with conservation/preservation/cleaniness?
  4. How do we gel together the aspirational hopes we try to implant in the people; with the not-so-aspirational, yet necessary tasks, like cleaning toilets, working in sewers…

Please give an answer better than “Robots will…”


P.S. My thanks to Dr. Matthew Cole for always asking this question…

4 thoughts on “An important social question

  1. It is assumed that to work in the realms of waste management is in someway degredatory – this preconception will be shattered over the coming years as it becomes a greater factor of our survival as a civilisation.

    It is becoming imperative that we all take responsibility for rubbish as individuals, due to climate change and lack of land mass suitable for landfill, as well as the current energy crisis. The good news is that efficient waste management facilitates solutions to all of these issues!

    At present, those working in waste management / recycling appear to fall into two categories:
    1. activists
    2. employees

    Activists are the people I generalise as believing in what they are doing, that it is helping the planet as a whole. They are the people responsible for innovative waste management schemes, petitioning government agencies and corporate behemoths to change thier practices, and establishing forward thinking shcemes in thier local communities. Modules of the sustainable development, Env Sci Msc are devoted to practial solutions to waste (according to my mate Rachel anyway!)
    Often these people are headingup think tanks and lobby groups, as well as working at grassroots level in the permaculture centres and recycling establishments.

    Employees are the people whom local government appoints to deal with the mundane duties of rubbish collection, household recycling and the tip. They are paid minimum wage to encounter pathogens, DIY rubble, broken glass, and other unappetising substances on a daily basis. In some cases they can also fall into the category of activists, but more often comprise people unable to find work in ther areas, such as reformed drug addicts, criminals and people with learning difficulties. They work long hours, rising incredibly early, doing a dangerous and very physical job with little thanks from the local population whom they serve.

    (On a personal note I would like to write about my friend Aled. Skip this is you’re not into the human interest side of things! He was until last month a binman for monmouthshire county council. In this work the men are expected to ride the back of the lorry between streets, holding onto a rail to the side of the collection jaws, with a small platform for the feet. Aled is about 6ft 10in tall, with very large feet. He lost his footing when the lorry set off, falling fell on his head. He woke up from his coma two weeks ago, but will remain hospitalised for the next year approx for rehabilitation. Aside from the issue of compensation in his case, should there not be more consideration for the health and safety of these people? Why do we as a society deem these men of lesser value? Amongst our friends there has been a great deal of sadness about Aled’s condition, his band played a fundraiser sunday raising over £1000 to buy him a gift once he is home.)

    The future will feature recycling, composting and minimising waste as a big theme. We will aspire to become a zero waste nation, for economic reasons as well as environmental ones. Living off grid is already becoming an accepted lifestyle, with entire families establishing smallholdings, living in yurts without electricity, running water or council refuse collection. Although at the present time local government and utility companies feel quite threatened by this due to the loss of revenue, I believe they will soon begin to appreciate the strain it takes off them as we run out of fossil fuels and land.

    From my own experience I know that about 50% of the waste I produce is biodegradable – econappies, food waste, paper and card. This can be used to produce compost or be burned as fuel to produce heat or electricity. One issue with this is the ink used on food packaging – how much is this poisoning the soil? Will it create a bigger problem with air pollution if these chemicals are burned? Perhaps a law will be passed requiring the packaging industry to use vegetable inks soon.

    The next 40% is recyclable in one way or another – glass, metal, plastic containers, carrier bags, tetrapaks, ink cartridges, mobile phones, refridgerators, furniture, clothes. About half of the waste I am able to recycle is taken by the local council. Anything else I must take responsibilty for by taking it to al collection point, giving it away(freecycling) or posting it off at my own expense.

    10% of my waste goes to landfill. This includes the most dangerous and toxic substances such as paint, spray cans, batteries, and the remaining plastic wrappers I am unable to give to tesco. I am sure many of my neighbors send a higher percentage due to the extra effort required to ensure my waste gets recycled. Surely these are the things we most want to avoid contaminating the soil and waterways? Madness. It would be phenominal if the tax money used to fund the defence industry was invested in a safe way to dispose of this type of waste. As an aromatherapist I was sent a government advice leaflet detailing recent legislation about the disposal of hazadous substances, but when I contacted monmouthshire council they had no advice or resources in place to help me comply. The leaflet was a load of hot air!

    I think as more of us move towards an off grid lifesyle the stigma associated with refuse disposal will become a thing of the past. People taking responsibilty for thier own crap will be respected and emulated.
    When at camp in summer I know the chaps who dig the composting loos are respected and appreciated by the rest of us(!), and everyone must take responsibility for putting sawdust on their crap or the cubicle fills with flies. We feed food scraps to the sheep, and mke art installations with a lot of rubbish, but admittedly there are still many bags sent to landfill by the end of summer – more so than the recycling! This is an incongruency I cannot explain as the majority of people I meet at camp talk about wanting to save the environment.

    When did landfill become the norm for rubbish disposal? Must have been the 20th century, although I havent done any research to prove this. What did we do before this? How is it that we as a culture produce so many times more waste than our forbears? These are apt questions as we once more lurch in to the consumerist exesses of the festive season, with all the accompanying wrapping, cards and turkey carcasses.

  2. Certain presuppositions are in play with your points, Liz:

    Assumption 1: The question (of the post) pertains to waste management
    Assumption 1*: The solution to waste management is largely in recycling

    Assumption 1: is legitimate; in fact, that seems the most prima facie candidate of a way to explain how to deal with all the “shit”.
    Assumption 1*: is contraversial, I won’t go into this, and I don’t see it as my mandate to give specific answer to how to recycle (I’m not an environmental scientist..); I evaluate the kinds of answers we can give, not what answer specifically we give…


    The issue we are trying to raise is what some people refer to as “The Scarcity Gap”; that is; how is it that we use finite resources to satisfy (what seems to be) our infinite desire?


  3. Pingback: The Scarcity Gap « Sinistre and Destre’s noumenal realm

  4. Ah.

    I see, so by “dealing with” you are actually trying to define the abstract reasoning behind our beliefs about clearing up our waste. My apologies! I forget how easy it is for me to slip into living in the real world, actually doing something rather than just philosophising. I can see I have a long way to go.

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