I was walking through Brighton, on Lewes Road, when I stumbled on an empty plastic bottle. It rolled back against the wall adjacent to the pavement and I carried on walking (I did not drop this bottle myself). This caught the attention of woman who was coming towards me. As she approached, she slowed her pace and gave me the look, which said demandingly ‘I want a word with you’, as if to demean me.
“Pick that litter up you little bugger!” She said,
“On what grounds?” I ask.
“Put it in the bin and stop being a smart-arse, you know very well why”.
“Firstly, it’s not my litter and secondly I’m afraid I don’t understand where you are coming from. Please explain to me what you think the act of putting rubbish in the bin actually achieves?”.
With a snort and a puff, she responded with the intention of patronising me, “It’s about, you little bugger, everybody making sure rubbish and waste is disposed of properly and making sure that our community is tidy and clean”.
At first I understood her point, it seemed logical, even rational, to assume that the act of placing litter in the bin was doing our part to stop the accumulation of waste in the streets and public places. But, I was in an argumentative mood, so I contended it, and quite rightly.
“So you think that it signifies the proper disposal of rubbish? The way I see it, by placing the eternal plethora of waste accumulated in our streets and community through years of mindless consumption into the bin, which is hailed as though it were some sort of clean teleportation device, we actually forget where this waste goes. And where does this waste go once it has been placed in the bin?”
I pause and she says nothing, but eagerly awaits my answer.
“You see the bin is a teleportation device of some sort, except it does not transfer rubbish into the fourteenth-dimension where rubbish can just disappear. It gets transferred into areas which are designated for the dumping, burning and burying of waste products which are the result of your craving for a Mars bar, cheap clothing, or even the latest scandal as you have most recently highlighted to me (pointing to the plastic bottle)”.
I could see the contemplation in her face. She had something to say and she failed to keep all of it in, her splutters were like premature verbal ejaculation, her hands trembling with anger and eyes as sharp as scalpels. “So you think”, she pauses momentarily before re-initiating her sentence, “Let me get this right, you think we should just leave rubbish everywhere and let our communities drop into a cataclysmic pig sty?”.
I replied. “I have never said anything about wanting the community to become a pig sty. But your blind ignorance to where your rubbish eventually goes creates a pig sty of land outside your communal vicinity. It seems to me that you would prefer, if possible, that some other people would deal with your rubbish; and do it in a manner in which you can forget about the processes that precede the creation of that waste. But if we hide waste away from our sight, we are hiding real issues away from our minds; litter reminds us of the wastefulness of our societal endeavours”.
I continued. “Your clothes are most likely created in a sweatshop, somewhere far away, perhaps Bangkok or Vietnam? You do not take such a defensive approach to the coercive, wasteful, extremely dirty and dangerous conditions of the corporate workshops of developing nations in which foreign human beings work in. Like your rubbish, you want exploitative relations to carry on outside of your line-of-sight, as if they were mysteriously invisible to you in some unknown dimension. You want me to pick up that bottle and put it in the bin. I want to leave that bottle on the street and see what people do about it, wait for a spark to cause a fire, wait for words to cause actions. I don’t just want to hide the problem, I want to eliminate the process that started it. If the body of a bloodied victim of post-colonial torture and warfare lies in the street, purple and black, riddled with third-degree burns, snapped tendons, bones sticking out from her skin and her fleshy meat sprayed across the floor would you ask someone to clean it up out of sight? You are disgusted by the sight of waste in the streets but you do nothing to prevent it! I’m seeing a lot of fingers being pointed, everyone is standing around the litter in our streets but nobody wants to think about what precedes it! You hide it away from your sight, like you pretend to yourself that we are civilized humans”.
Her eyes led off into the distance, her emotion was no longer embezzled by the irate crusade that had started her off. She turned her head and faced me directly, this time with an honest look, as if to say ‘Okay I understand if that is the case’. She responded “I was wrong to be angry”.
She immediately regretted this soft approach and re-appropriated sternness but nevertheless with more ease.
“I suppose I just think that it would be nice to see a community in which people respected each other and each thing, and each place. I’m a big supporter of ending waste on any scale, even all that crap that is produced in third-world countries, but what do you think leaving shit on the street is gonna achieve?”
I could see that she was honestly concerned about the issue at hand, that she was not just some old woman trying to get a kick out of shouting and screaming at those who are younger.
“The first thing to realise is that we are built with senses. If we can’t see, hear, or touch anything, we are less likely to suppose there is a problem. Some of the most serious issues we face as human beings are pushed to the back of our minds by the saving-face presented by the theatrical performance of society. Society is there to present coherence and stability, but it does so through removing the real issues away from our senses. Rubbish is a real issue. But it can’t be solved through the modern ritual of binning, then burning or burying in landfill. The root of the cause lies in what we are made to want in our lives, through all the little things that assert our identities, all the little things that give us a sense of security – like an abundance of food in supermarkets which fifty-percent of the time results in waste.”
I looked around, people walking by, cars zooming past, buses edging past and bike-riders roll past. “If you want an end to waste, you have to show it to the people, not hide it”.Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Elijah Pryor