Status and Stuff
Justene watched Duncan forcefully throw his backpack into the corner by his office cubicle. “I’m sick of seeing these reports about children living off the garbage dumps. What’s wrong with this world?” he said.
She retrieved another report from the stack on her desk and thumbed quickly through it.
Duncan didn’t stop. “I checked out YouTube on transit this morning and what do I see? 3000 little kids fighting with scorpions and rats on some island in the Philippines just so they can scavenge a bit of food and survive another day. Then I see the same thing in Africa and South America and India.”
“So what are you so upset about?” Justene asked.
Duncan paced the floor. “I’m getting off the bus just down the block. I think, ‘okay, that’s the way life is over there.’ I try to put it out of my head. Then I look down an alley and I see a man and a little boy scrounging through the dumpster. Here! And then I look up and down the alley and there is trash everywhere.”
“So, were you upset about the trash or the man and the boy?”
“It’s more about what the man told me.”
“What did he tell you?”
Duncan walked over to a floor to ceiling window and looked out over the towering skyline. He ran his fingers through his jet black hair and sighed. “Well first, I started yelling at him to get out of the trash with that kid. I thought maybe he was looking for paperwork for identity theft or something.”
Justene picked up her Starbucks’ vanilla skinny latte grande and joined Duncan at the window. “I thought you said you were upset at what he told you.”
“Yes, I was. He told me that his wife left him with their son. She ran off with someone else. This man had some kind of disability so couldn’t work. He was scavenging to recycle and when he had to he was scavenging to eat.”
“Wow! That’s tough.”
“I tried to give him $20 to go to McDonalds and he said he still needed to recycle to save the planet.”
“Sounds like he needs to save his kid. So what did he tell you?”
Duncan turned away from the window and walked back to his cubicle. He watched her follow and sit. “He asked me how much garbage I created every day? He told me that the average person in this country created up to four pounds a day. He told me that each year Americans created enough garbage to cover the state of Texas twice. He said if we put it all in dump trucks and put them bumper to bumper there would be a line all the way to the moon. If everyone in the world was as wasteful we’d create 4 trillion tons of garbage every year.”
“That’s a lot.”
Duncan twisted in his chair and stood up again. He opened his laptop and typed quickly. He hunched over to scan his screen and then moved back to the window.
“He told me about how much garbage is thrown in the ocean. He said that in the past 30 years the population of our cities has doubled and people are running out of room to dump their trash. A lot goes into the ocean. He said millions of tons of abandoned plastics are floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. One patch between California and Hawaii is twice the size of Texas. Another patch between Japan and Hawaii is also huge.”
Justene swallowed the last drops of coffee. She eyed the nearby waste bucket then the recycle center twenty feet away. She walked to the center and tossed the cup. “What are you going to do about all this?”
“My friends and I used to laugh at these people. We called them rag pickers, binners, dumpster divers. He said the proper term for his work was ‘waste picking’ or ‘informal recycling.’ He said that the World Bank estimates that 2% of the world’s population survives off garbage recycling. Did you know there are one and a half million waste pickers in India alone?”
“So what are you going to do, here?”
“He told me that there are over 50 tons of trash on the sides of Mt. Everest. Oxygen bottles, food containers, plastic bags, bottles, human waste and even bodies.”
“What can I do? I need to get back to work.”
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