The Trash Man Cometh | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Trash Man Cometh

A stereotype is a funny critter. On the one hand, they are so offensive—like someone believing I'm a bigot because I'm a white Mississippian. Or the old saws that black people don't tip, or recycle. Or that women are more emotional; men more heartless. Or the really awful ones like the beliefs about young, black males that cause some fearful people to cross the sidewalk to get away from them.

On the other hand, stereotypes are too often self-perpetuating, it seems, turning them into confounding riddles. People believe we are; therefore, we become. The stereotype about Mississippians and race comes to mind; we claim all that is over, but do backflips as a state to keep the symbol of race terror as our state symbol.

Or, consider the sad origins of other negative stereotypes. The truth is that many labels and generalizations come from a real place—it may not be a place of absolute truth, but the seeds were planted anyway.

Certainly, members of my family (to the best of my knowledge) were not in the Klan, but they didn't exactly jump up on a soapbox or tailgate and scream back at the Kluckers, either. So at least part of the stereotypes ring true. They kept silent.

Even the "thug" stereotype has some merit—way too many young people are choosing to fulfill the stereotype of a life of crime, or pretend that they are with their music and dress. Too often, perception becomes reality. Yes, it matters that many of those young people grew up without options, or mentors or support—but they are still living down to the negative stereotype of themselves every time they rap about bitches and hos and glorify criminal lifestyles.

And you could certainly argue that some people who grew up amid poverty—regardless of race—might hesitate to plop a $20 bill down as a tip, even if they just paid $100 for dinner. (Honestly, though, many people I knew who grew up poor are the best tippers ever—probably because they/we have worked for tips.)

The same goes for recycling and "going green"—maybe those things rank low on your priority list, regardless of whether they should, when you're worried about where the next meal is coming from. Or what your kid is up to after school. Or not being discriminated against. Or building wealth so your kids have more than you do.

The tragedy of stereotypes is how they limit our imagination, and our potential, and even our health. The communities that show the least concern about climate change are the very ones that are often targeted by environmental waste, pollution, toxins, antibiotic-laden milk and even the lack of fresh, affordable produce. Those problems can create immediate health issues, such as painful fibroids in women; asthma in kids; obesity in whole families. They, in turn, are faced with astronomical medical bills to try to treat the problems.

That doesn't, of course, take into account what's going to happen in the future. Unfortunately, a live-day-by-day, paycheck-to-paycheck existence doesn't leave a lot of energy for worrying about the intensity of tornadoes, hurricanes and forest fires in the future. You have to intentionally think forward, and picture how much worse life can get if all that warming, which is real (even George Bush admits it now), continues to increase the ferocity of Mother Nature. Yes, we've always dodged hurricanes, but how many more Katrinas can we handle?

So it is up to us to make it real, to force our eyes away from the problems on our plate (and we all have them) and think outside our personal boxes. Maybe one way to do that is to picture your grandchild wearing a gas mask to school every day.

One way to reject the stereotypes that you don't care about the environment is to embrace the idea that small things matter. Your efforts at greening your life do make a difference, and they will add up with all the other actions by those around you. "Lower your carbon footprint" is a trendy phrase, but it is about decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide that has the power to hurt you and your children. Put like that, it's hard to resist doing something green.

Let's take one action: If you recycle your aluminum and steel cans, you alone can save 414 pounds of CO2 in a year. If everyone in the U.S. does it, it's the equivalent of taking nearly 4 million cars off the road. If you wash your laundry on a cooler setting, you save 581 pounds of CO2 a year. Switch your lightbulbs to compact flourescents (buy them on sale and don't change bulbs again for years), and you'll save 832 pounds of CO2 in a year. Modify your thermostat, and you save 1,300 pounds of CO2 in a year. Follow the speed limit, and save 1,500 pounds a year. And that's just you, baby.

Do these habits require changes? Sure, they do. Positive actions always require changes—some unimaginable to people at the time. But there is also something wonderful about stepping outside yourself, and your drama, and your reality, and doing something so purely unselfish.

Another way to convince yourself to play your green role is to consider what you're destroying and whether you have the right to destroy it. Is the earth there for you to trash? Were you offered the privilege of living here in order to take, take, take?

Often, when I walk through Fondren on trash morning, I'm astounded by the piles of trash I see in front of some of the largest homes—so many recyclables used for packaging of cool stuff and then just sent out for the trash man. The waste—and it's everywhere—is heart-breaking when you really take time to notice it.

Really, one has to wonder, what would the Creator of all this beauty think?

Thankfully, many people are starting to ponder just that. The Creation Care movement (creationcare.org), for instance, is asking that question directly: What is our responsibility to care for this wonderful land we've been loaned? Put another way, how can we be faithful stewards of God's green acres?

It starts with awareness. Then you pick up a cloth bag and refuse the plastic bag. You stop buying plastic bottles. You get a curbside recycling bin from the city. You sell the gas-guzzler. You car pool. You plant some basil. You buy cool used clothes.

The riddle is solved easily: We transcend the stereotypes by simply deciding to. Wish they'd told us that a long time ago.

Previous Comments

ID
118668
Comment

I have to admit I have failed with recycling. I get mad about filth, trash, garbage, needless destruction of trees and other god-provided and natural things, disarrayed, disheveled or unrepaired buildings, offices and houses, etc. I'm happy and overjoyed around beauty, cleanliness, order and neatness although I know beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. The first thing people notice about me when coming into my house and offcie is neatless, order and a natural and aesthetically pleasing surrounding. I can hardly function at optimum without these things. My aunt who helped raise me and a wife with similar taste helped make me this way. However, I'm surprised that I haven't been able to get with this recycling thing. It seems to fit my personality but I'm unable to embrace it so far. I have the recycling tray at my house and watch my neighbors recycle every week (many of which don't have the above characteristics above to bear with) but I haven't joined them yet in recycling. I will try next week. Perhaps I'm yet to become convinced it matters?

Author
Walt
Date
2008-04-17T08:24:55-06:00
ID
118672
Comment

hey Wait, it matters! I am doing it now, too, after a long break. I lived for 4 years in Northern California & we all recycled there. But in MS I got out of the habit. A friend talked me back into it - he does it religiously. It matters believe me

Author
Izzy
Date
2008-04-17T09:11:46-06:00
ID
118677
Comment

A few years ago, a waste management company started a recycling program in my neighborhood. Everyone seemed pretty excited about participating since so many bins full of paper and plastics showed up on the curb every other week. Unfortunately, since those bins often stayed on the curb for several days at a time because the truck was either late or didn't show up at all, everyone gradually quit. My mom even announced that our household was no longer participating because having all that trash nearby would attract critters. Also, during that time, the small bins they gave us filled up quickly, and I called the company to see if we could get a bigger receptacle, but they said they didn't. I considered buying a big trash can and drawing a recycle symble on it before my mom said we weren't doing it any more. I want to start back, but my problem is getting the refuse to the recycling center. I feel self-conscious about taking all that stuff to Rainbow because I know there will be a lot of it, and I don't know if I want folks seeing me haul all that stuff up there. Do they even have enough room for it? WE go through a lot of plastic bottles, and my mom bought a filter for our faucet last year. Unfortunately, the filter sprung a leak, so whenever I use it, I am squirted by water and have to put my finger over the crack. I tried to remove it, and it won't budge. I stripped the plastic screw trying to get it off, so now we're back to using more bottled water. Even though I have all those obstacles, there are some things we do to contribute. We do use compact fluorescent bulbs, and hopefully one day we'll be able to replace all the bulbs in the house. We reuse plastic grocery bags for everything from trash to toting leftovers. I never leave the faucet running when I brush my teeth, and I go around turning off lights when they are not in use. Every little thing helps, right?

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-04-17T10:03:32-06:00
ID
118682
Comment

Hey, L.W., try one of those plastic pitchers. And, yes, everything helps! Also, consider getting one of those big-ass blue bins from Target to use for curbside recycling. You can usually get them for about $5 a piece. Anyone know where you call about getting new bins from the city? I need some, too.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2008-04-17T10:44:59-06:00
ID
118689
Comment

We've started using the flourescent bulbs in one of the bathrooms. Eventually, the other bulbs will be converted, too. The fact that the bulbs we have won't need to be changed for nine years should be attractive to anyone. Think about how many bulbs you'll buy to change one light fixture. That one flourescent bulb will more than pay for itself over the next decade.

Author
golden eagle
Date
2008-04-17T11:35:45-06:00
ID
118691
Comment

Donna, I don't think the company comes out here any more.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2008-04-17T11:40:13-06:00

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