“There are people doing work to sanitize our surroundings for us, who are caring for our health and happiness, and many of us don’t even know where our waste goes,” notes author Joshua Reno, of Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill.
Not only does our society largely fail to recognize the importance and contributions of these servers, but we determine their importance and geographical placement in a highly political manner.
“Because there are very few, very big landfills and many communities who depend on them, that means that some people and places bear a disproportionate burden. Rural communities, in general, bear this burden, and some states, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Virginia, import a lot of waste on behalf of others… rural places with a small tax base and less political organization are more likely to end up with a big waste site in their backyard. As a result, most waste sites end up located near communities of color and poorer people. So even though we have so much space in this country, compared to others, we still end up exposing disadvantaged and minority groups to everyone else’s waste.”
“Landfills are not merely dumps, where you just leave stuff to decay in the open air. They carefully spread out, compact, and bury wastes of different kinds—sludge from sewers, ash from incinerators, yard waste and building material from residences—and do so to make sure that nothing escapes beyond the landfill boundary. But since they are difficult to contain and control, this tends to happen, which is why you need laborers working for little money, picking up paper, repairing gas and leachate lines, paving roads, and so on. This is what I did for nine months, and until I did it, I didn’t appreciate how intricate an activity landfilling is,” the author spoke of his firsthand experiment.
Why so much trash these days? Our society’s appetite for standardization is partly to blame. Not only does it create waste out of any defective item, it causes the addition of packaging.
“Reproducible sameness means we want commodities to be exactly the same as previous ones we’ve bought and as future ones we might buy. The rise of packaging can be explained as a result of this commitment to sameness.”
It’s no secret that most of humanity has an antipathy toward change. But, there are costs and unpleasantries associated with that. Yet for now, we have collectively decided it is all worth it.