picking it up

On Saturday morning I sat at the bus stop peacefully practicing individual sustainability when my meditations were  interrupted by a man picking up what in Dutch is called vagrant trash from all over the sidewalk and stuffing it into the bin no more than 2 feet away from me. He set a full soft drink cup on top of the bin at one point and carefully stuffed some sandwich wrappers in.

Vagrant Trash (not picked up by me)

Vagrant Trash (not picked up by me)

I don’t really mind this kind of behavior, but, for those of you who wonder, I definitely don’t do it myself. I just watch the picker-uppers and notice that they’re almost always “older” (i.e., older than me) and that they have a slightly contrarian air. “I don’t understand these people just throwing their trash on the ground,” they will tell you, or otherwise it’s evident from the formation of their brows that they’re thinking just that.

I on the other hand am always thinking that it’s a miracle that so minute a fraction of the vast mountains of trash we create in the West end up outside of designated receptacles. And that there are people properly employed and fitted out to enroll the vagrant trash into the official garbage program. So why me? And that if I have no clean facilities to wash my hands, I really, really wouldn’t want to touch the stuff myself. In fact, by my reckoning, picking up all the trash with your bare hands and then handing your Euros to the bus driver without intervening ablutions is not exactly the pinnacle of human kindness.

Anyhow, soft drink cup safely on top of the bin. And  then splat. Bad enough to get on the bus with those filthy hands, but when the trash becomes projectile I’m really not enjoying myself. I like trash in the abstract and from a safe distance much more than I like it in person.

So this morning the New York Times posted a story that takes all of that and turns it completely upside down. A young man in Lahore, Pakistan, has started a group to personally pick up vagrant trash once a week as a statement of political will and empowerment. Good for him. I hope it’s the start of a movement. And I hope he gets to wash his hands before he gets on the bus.


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May 2009
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