Environmental Justice & Sustainability

Not Everything is Trash

The harsh stench of days old Coca-Cola slowly creep pass your nostrils as they walk by you. To us, the only reasonable reaction to such a foul odor is to whine or nag about it.

“That is so gross.” “So disgusting!” “God, I hate these people” “Why do they stink this much.” 

And so on.

What we fail to realize at this point is if we notice this smell, don’t they? Do they hate the smell just as much as we do? Have they grown accustomed to it? Why do they let themselves reek like that? Why do they have to collect so many cans? Why can’t they get a real job?

These are the types of questions we think about, but it may be the least of their concern. They worry about whether or not they can feed their family. They worry about saving enough money for themselves, or for their children’s schooling. They worry about paying rent. They worry about our environment. They worry about bettering themselves. The world we live in, money is power and inevitably it is what you need to live a sustainable life nowadays. When people aren’t able to find work, there are other alternatives to make money.

I have been working at a supermarket for about a year now. My department is the deli department, one of the busiest departments in the whole store. We attend to many customers, and some have become familiar faces. However, some of the people that stick to my mind are not customers at all.

When I am up front at my counter and to my right is a little area dedicated to collecting cans. I see these aluminum and plastic gatherers coming in sometimes when I just lurk around up front. They come in all different races and genders. They come with all different stories I assume too. There is the Mexican guy who seems to have a party every weekend, coming in with beer bottles and cans with his daughter and son. The Albanian woman that always talks even though no one can understand her, with her shoe always looking to small to fit her foot. The two African-American men, who always greet me with a “what’s up?” or a “how’s it going?”.  I remember giving them free sandwiches once. Sometimes people order them and then decide not to want them any more. These guys take it, and never really ask what type of sandwich it is.

Sometimes when I get home from work I wonder, what if that was me struggling? What if i had to smell like piss all the time? What if i had to figure out a way to feed my family without any education or home? Is it really worth it? Is it really worth the brutal cold? Hot summers? I’m thankful for not being in that situation, but I am also thankful that I had a father who went through his own hardships to make my life better, his history allowed me to see how strong these people are.

I wonder this, but I also wonder what it would be like to help. How much happiness it could bring to someone who actually needs the cans and bottles to feed their family. How much easier their lives would be not having to go out late at night to collect recyclables in a neighborhood that can be dangerous at night. I’m going to start collecting cans this semester. I have recycled before, but privately. My family would have parties that resulted in a bunch of cans being leftover. We would take them to the machines the next day. Recycling cans have been a known way of helping our environment. From an article at sfgate.com, the known benefactors of recycling cans have been known for us using less energy, reducing waste, and the reduction in greenhouse gases. It is also important to note that aluminum, although viewed as something as miniscule as a Coca-Cola can, is actually very valuable as scrap. So it is important to collect as much as you can, as it can be reused as many times as possible.

I will find the time to do this. It will be a challenge for me, between school and work. I hope to keep my promise, as it is not only environmentally conscious to recycle, but it can make a difference for people whose livelihoods depend on it. This is more than recycling for me, but an entrance to a new world. A world in which I have been only an observer too.

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2 thoughts on “Not Everything is Trash

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog post and was glad that you incorporated people who gather recyclables from the trash rather than just writing broadly about recycling. The line, “How much easier their lives would be not having to go out late at night to collect recyclables in a neighborhood that can be dangerous at night”, especially caught my attention as it captured a thought that probably passes through most of our minds but goes unattended. How many times indeed have we seen a person walking about at night time sifting through garbage bags on the sidewalk and think “Maybe I should just separate the recyclables next time so it’s easier for this person”? But how many of us actually act on that thought? After reading your post, I realized that it is not acceptable to continue this way and will finally act upon this thought. You have set a reasonable and helpful goal to help the environment as well as people who might need some extra help.

    Liked by 2 people

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