Monday, September 5, 2016

trash talk

 No, I'm not planning on analyzing where that phrase came from--I'm actually going to talk about trash. That's because on Saturday I came across not one but two interesting films about it.

The first came from our local recycling center. In it, a very enthusiastic young woman explains all the intricacies of our local recycling requirements. I don't know about your community, but perhaps some of them are similar. Although it's very clear and informative, there was a not so positive thought running through my mind, which is that this was way more information than I ever wanted to know. The contrarian spirit in me thinks that we should be making recycling easier for people, not harder. And maybe someday, we will. But for now, remember that there are two kinds of plastic bags, the stretchy ones you can recycle, the non-stretchy ones not. And that's just for starters.

I just  remembered that there was yet another item for discussion. I also saw an article a couple of days ago on the closing down of recycling centers. That's right--the closing down of recycling centers. Although it was in The Guardian, it was actually about California. The subtitle of the article says it all: Poor and homeless San Franciscans rely on income earned by trading cans for cash, but their subsistence is under threat as hundreds of centers close down.

The reason? As The Guardian describes it, the real money in recycling comes from the scrap value of the material, the price of which has been plummeting for the past three years. Here's a sentence that shocked me:

“Energy is so cheap right now that it’s much easier for manufacturers of anything –aluminum cans or plastic bottles – to be using virgin material instead of recycled material,” said Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste.

Oh, and here's another one:

But plastic bottles are overtaking aluminum cans as the dominant beverage container, according to Murray.

Really? After all the massive education about how environmentally terrible plastic waste is, this is where we still are?

A WWII poster--apparently times have changed.

Not to mention that there is a whole anti-homeless people issue that factors in as well. Honestly, every time I think about this article, I get very depressed.

But let's end on a bright note. That comes from the fact that the other trash film I saw was on America Reframed and was called "Trash Dance." It showed the progress of choreographer Allison Roe to fulfill her vision of doing a public dance performance by the Austin Department of Solid Waste. I missed the beginning, so I don't know how hard it was to persuade the workers to participate, because by the time I tuned in they were all pretty much on board.

Both the performance and the film, which was directed by Andrew Garrison, are quite beautiful and moving. One of the great things is seeing the unsuspected gifts of the workers brought to the fore. And another was the way a huge crowd turned up in the rain to see and celebrate them.

There is an ironic aspect to it all, though. Most of the people involved in the making of both the dance and the film are white and most of the waste department workers are people of color. They are proud of what they do for a living, so it's not that. But what becomes obvious is that talent is spread fairly evenly through both populations, so it's a little uncomfortable to see that one group of people gets to identify themselves as artists and the other doesn't. Or not usually, anyway.

Despite that one reservation, it's still a great collaboration. If you get a chance to see the film, do.


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