Monday, February 16, 2015

Week 6

This is how many bananas we found in the landfill bins in Goodhue today

This landfill bin was loaded with recyclable bottles, cans, and cups from a party last night.

The entire blender cup is being thrown out presumably because someone doesn't want to wash it out.

This is some signage in the kitchen on fourth. We are glad to see that someone has added (compost) parenthetically, but it should really be made more obvious than that. FOOD GOES IN THE COMPOST.
Giving a regular and in depth reach into the trash can be both a blessing and a curse - it feels like having the capacity to read minds : exciting and possibly handy until you realize how much information you wish you hadn't stumbled upon.

On the one hand, my weekend shifts make me feel helpful. On top of that I get to walk around, sing, rap and beatbox with my fellow trashmates and find the occasional treasure. When it comes to affecting my view of people, the stinky or gooey stuff I'll find won't do my psyche any more harm than would a graphic documentary on human immune responses and other mostly-natural bodily functions. And since the trash is generally anonymous, whatever catastrophe or absurdity I find usually won't affect any of my personal relationships.

But that's exactly what makes it unsettling - it's a global truth dump. Stuff in the trash can be nasty on a whole other level. So when I dig into the black plastic bags what I end up seeing is a reflection of the very imperfect microcosm I live in, with sights and smells to really drive the points home.

In these not-so-glamorous crystal-balls (or buckets) of disposed resources, I get to see into the lives of kids who've made it into one of the best schools in one of the most powerful countries in the world and what I see will often shatter my hopes - not just for the students here, but for all of us. Because I always heard that with great power comes great responsibility. Yet the glimpses I get into students' habits tend to shrink that universal precept to a little more than a token motto, begging the question of what we've really come to this institution to accomplish.

Let's brainstorm that idea - we're here to : 1) receive a degree and a decent GPA (in order to...?) 2) Experience the arbitrary requirements of the "college experience" (please ask whoever defined those expectations to provide an explanation) 3) Learn how to work hard and establish long-term relationships within a diverse population (could we talk about diversity at some point?) 4) Hopefully learn a bit about the world and ourselves in the process. No doubt, the last two points seem to be of irrefutable value and probably won't get a fair trial from the contents of a trash bin. But my findings still have me wondering how far kids have gone in considering some of these priorities.

More so than that, it makes me wonder how seriously our parents, schools, churches and media have meditated on the priorities they've passed on to us. Because for the most part we're just reiterating what we've seen and accepted as normal (with a couple extra generational crises to boot). That's how culture works, right? Except no book or podcast about kids at an American Liberal Arts College will change your perspective on our culture the way ravished McDonalds bags, Domino's boxes, bottles of cheap Vodka and packs of chips lying next to untouched bananas and oranges will. When it comes to the topic of caring for one's own body and having the means to do so, we need go no further. But look a bit deeper and you'll find functional blender cups, unopened packs of flash cards, books in good shape and pairs of pants with a single hole that were just asking for a dandy patch. And that's where you get to witness the heavy and isolated foot of Privilege, stomping down on the accelerator of a system's already rapidly moving chain of resource consumption and waste generation. Not to mention the yearning, nearby compost and recycling bins. The trash in the dorms presents itself as an ominous smorgasbord, or whatever may be left over from one.

Of course, no single item in the landfill-bound bin can speak for an entire student population, and, in many cases, academic stress will cause temporary shifts to what may very possibly be, by default, a noble worldview. But these select examples still reveal a trend, which - in the context of this particular school's prestige and the current and impending collapses (social, political, economic, ecological, cultural, spiritual, [insert additional category here, we've pretty much gotten to that point]) - falls nothing short of perplexing.

Luckily I'm in a position to be able to document and comment on what I find. And one thing I've found is that while looking inside yourself may take a therapist or a good friend, and looking into the world may take a poet or a prophet, looking inside your trash will do both of those for free.

--Henri Sandifer