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The everyday waste of a modern society, accidental ... and cretin

The everyday waste of a modern society, accidental ... and cretin


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By Luis E. Sabini Fernández

Modern Western society has been the great forger of garbage production. Very gradually, modern society was abandoning the cycle of things and constituting a linear economic process, according to which, the gross product becomes a commodity, it is used and it is expelled from society, ignoring it.


For some time now, and not only in Argentina, it has been observed that the question of everyday waste, the so-called “garbage” has frankly changed from status.

Brutally, we could say that it appeared. Because for decades, if not centuries, it had remained carefully invisible.
Its dimensions became such that this concealment, that slight ignorance could hardly be sustained.

The established system of garbage production jealously guarded that invisibility. It was the one that allowed to eliminate costs, what in economics is called outsourcing them. Pagadiós, the mother or whore mother natura -if we judge by the treatment-, the grandchildren, the ocean floor, in short.

In 1977, when the air of Buenos Aires had become frankly unbreathable, for two very different causes, it is true (the spiritual air due to the street hunting of the different from the torture teams officially called task groups); the physical air, well material, had reached such a degree of pollution through the burning of plastics in all the buildings of the capital, that the prevailing political system had to face such pollution. By means of the comfortable expedient, it is true, of housing the waste in huge ditches (which have given rise, over the decades, to semantic treasures such as the Camino del Buen Ayre). [1]

The contamination, then, did not disappear, it was only postponed. Over time, a sector began to suffer, no more than 1% or 0.5% of the population, the one closest to the landfills; the neighbors of José León Suárez, Wilde, González Catán and lately Ensenada ...

But if it is true that from the Moon the only perceptible human work is not the promoted Chinese Wall but the New York garbage dump, it seems logical that at some point such an issue would lose its invisibility, and that in the long run we hope that those responsible will lose their importance. impunity.

The uterus: avoid showing where the problem is

But we are far from rejoicing, far from the troublesome core. Because most of the time a problem is addressed when it is unavoidable. And only that. On the other hand, the flourishing of approaches that we increasingly hear about “garbage” presents a symptomatic bias: a lot of recycling, a lot of zero waste, a lot of recovery, the three R's (recycle, reduce, reuse) or even the somewhat more radical five erres (reject, repair, reduce, reuse, recycle), but everything or almost everything seems dedicated to consumption, to the consumer market. Our more or less recent, more or less official "garbage collectors" seem very dedicated to dealing with consumption, not production.

But it is precisely in the production of merchandise (which will soon become garbage) where the core of the problem lies. Therefore, any policy focused on channeling consumption is going to seem dangerously like plowing the sea.

Of course, this has an advantage: it does not touch the “main” interests and, instead, it tends to modify the lives of those who do not have decision-making capacity: if the important thing cannot be done, at least it seems as if it were done.

With a plus not negligible from the point of view of public relations: facing the management of waste already produced, is assembled with an activity that spontaneously, by necessity, faced very submerged sectors of contemporary society; those hardest hit by the sacralized and genocidal modernization: peasants and rural laborers expelled by increasing technification, unemployed and low-skilled workers, uprooted from the labor market with modernizations or foreigners, all of them who faced poverty knocking on their doors the recollection of the salvageable from societies that, while expelling people from the poorer layers, by "below", squander goods from the socio-economic layers "higher".

The problem posed by the latest projects and exhibitions on the topic of “garbage” that we read more and more in the press, on e-sites, that we see in television reports, then happens, if one is executive and systemic, through order the volume, establish pathetically called "green" centers where there will be people - never programmers - who will sort the waste (yes, with gloves and a mask, since they are not a diving suit) and if you are a garbage man but progressive, you will the emphasis on the socioeconomic task of cartoneros, reclaimers and sorters and on the recognition of their rights as such. Almost as if it were a chosen profession that lacked regulation, as if we were talking about auctioneers before becoming collegiate, or journalists still in spontaneous activity or electronic diagrammers at the time of their work breakthrough ... as if it were not about an option assumed within the greatest need, each cornered by a system that shreds not only the goods ...

Certainly it is better for classifiers to work without repression, with social recognition (and even gratitude, well deserved), with better hygienic conditions, but the underlying issue is, as we have already pointed out, quite another.

The proof of the nine that the attitude of those who have faced the issue of garbage since progress do not know or care about the fate of the cartoneros and sorters, no matter how much they invoke them permanently, is that, when they left in Montevideo with the ineffable mayor Arana made some exquisite containers that totally stifled the recovery effort, not only did we not hear criticism of such a policy that included waste instead of separating it, but there was not even space to approach such a measure with the necessary critical eye in the progressive press. We were told: How to criticize such popular municipal measures (which was true)? [2]

Impact campaign or cultural fact?

In what terms is this matter handled from the incommunicado mass media and from the political leaderships?

As a matter of campaigns (of awareness), as a matter of organization (the green centers in Buenos Aires) and of structuring a significant new union: that of garbage sorters.

The CEAMSE in Greater Buenos Aires had tried at the time to put into operation such centers for the classification of the remains, of the twenty thousand tons per day that the GBA expels from their homes after being bought in supermarkets, supermarkets, shopping centers and other places marketing. They had to suspend the tasks, because the foul smell was such that not even the people most mistreated by the system could take over.

However, there are programmers, groups of technically assisted investors, who welcome the installation of such purification chambers.

It is interesting to follow the "reasoning" of specialists in the field such as Elena Sanusian, sponsored by the BGS Groups, an "investment analysis and advice" company, operating in Argentina (Brazil and Venezuela).

Sanusian, in a conference on the matter, [3] concentrates all the possible activity to face "the solution" of the waste in the administration of what is consumed and become such, with entry slogans, such as " from irrational consumerism to responsible eco-consumption”. He maintains that it is necessary to “ set up eco-clubs (something that is used in Europe) where to train children who later return to their families”. However, very soon it submits to the harsh reality that inhabits us, and then it postulates the separation of garbage (to recover, recycle, reuse) in large "establishments", where "operators" proceed to make that "perfect" separation. In the midst of the highest hygiene and without any odor. What he calls' Comprehensive plan for waste treatment’.

A transition at least fast, from social analysis and awareness to the fiercest continuity: we are already "breathing" Macri-type solutions.

He says without fainting and with little awareness of his words: “ This is the task we will all have to work on”. To paraphrase Orwell, some will have to do it a little more than others, right?
It insists a lot on consumer awareness. The awareness of businessmen has been overlooked - quite a detail. The need to reconfigure industrial production, the manufacturing universe from which much of it comes, if not almost everything that soon after becomes waste.

As he advances in his approach, not even the awareness minutes before praised seems too important. He says, yes, that the best is separation at home (at source) but at the same time maintains that the treatment plants are so efficient that the state in which the waste enters is indifferent [sic]. And he categorically affirms “ that work optimally even if the residues come in the greatest mess”.

And he gives a final point: " There can be treatment with and without waste separation. " But if we in Argentina want to do treatment with separation at origin, " we would have to start low"And that would mean" a long process”. Therefore, " the value of the treatment plants I am talking about is that they are suitable not only when the separated waste arrives"But when it arrives" in the worst state we can imagine”. Compacted or not compacted, even directly from the truck.

It falls through a hopper on a long table, from there it begins to be separated by manual handling in general, what is recyclable is separated from what is not recyclable [sic]. It is seen that our technique has not advanced one more step in “what is recyclable”. It is sure to be lost.

And so we come to have a game for what is called final disposition, but not like the usual one in which everything is mixed up but has gone through a previous selection…’

I ask him finally and rhetorically:

-¿ You have done something that counts? and I open the exit door: Who makes such a separation?

-“ Operators, of course”, He answers. Ah.

The designers of a task that not even the most imaginative slave owners could conceive


The great solvers of the zero waste They have found a task that not even the most perverse of the slave owners of all time would have imagined: selecting garbage, choosing and gradually separating the remains that urban, consumerist and sophisticated humanity leaves behind. Just imagine: vegetable scraps, banana peels, plastic yogurt pots, broken threads, worn out batteries, grease and edges of the noon plate, torn socks, rattle that no longer sounds, ruined floppy disk, dog hair, worn T-shirt, papers wrapping, envelopes of bills to pay, remains of boiled rice, tea envelopes, cheese peels, bags of everything imaginable, fruit, household appliances, foam trays, plastic films of all kinds of food, bad food condition, hard plastic to protect cartridges, damaged ice cube trays, burned light bulbs, other food scraps, old bread, flyers, food in poor condition, shreds of whatever you can think of, mixed with grime, worn or broken studs, meat scraps , of vegetables, faded branches and flowers, broken glasses, old diaries and almanacs, hypodermic needles carelessly thrown into the can, pots of spent creams or deodorants, rickety curtains, disused clothing, propagade brochures nda, old newspapers, plastic tubes of various processed food products (mustard, sweet ketchup), old and broken furniture, ditto tools, leaky hoses, obsolete keys, jars of jam or furniture wax, broken plugs, disposable diapers, broken hardware, out-of-date passages, used cottons, disused notebooks, unused appliances of all types and sizes (hair dryers, kitchen processors, battery-powered clocks), glass or plastic bottles of beer, water, wine, oil, vinegar , strong alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and a very long etcetera. To which must be added what one throws in the workplace; Plastic cups for coffee, paper towels, various stationery or from the car: various containers, covers, spent batteries, or from the garden ...

And we are talking about a "household" that does not drink bottled water ... which is the main problem of saturation of landfills today ...

All that more or less together creates a nauseating stench. It is enough to approach the so welcome containers on a hot day to realize it. The difference is that one smells it from a distance and the cartonero, classifier, often dives inside to rescue the salvageable ... Imagine the reader not just a container of one cubic meter but a shed with hundreds of cubic meters of such a mixture. Remember the reader that time aggravates the situation of the contents due to putrefaction, sourness, the appearance of larvae and insects of all kinds ...

The issue of industrial, market and household waste is not a technical or organizational problem but a cultural one

This tour of the proposals in vogue allows us to envision that we are very, very far from really addressing the problem of "garbage" generated by irrepressible consumption.

Facing the problem is dealing precisely with that unstoppable consumption, consumerism. The idea of ​​society that dominates us today. That is far from being eternal, natural or immutable. Strictly speaking, garbage production is a relatively recent phenomenon for humanity. In ancient times there was neither garbage collection nor accumulation proper. Or there was it in almost despicable terms. Vikings filled holes for generations. Of course, these were groupings of no more than hundreds of human beings or perhaps thousands. But it took decades to fill a hole. And when they did, they moved or did another. With our consumption regime, a thousand inhabitants would fill any immense hole in a matter of months, not generations. At a rate of a ton or two a day, in four or five months we would have covered a volume of between one hundred and three hundred tons ... a rather square hole three meters deep and ten meters on a side ...

A modern, western model ... and radiant

Modern Western society has been the great forger of the production of garbage. In reality, forcing the rest of humanity, be it the subaltern classes of the "industrialized" countries or the peripheral societies (with their own environmental and housing reserves of the privileged) to take charge of such "production", more or less surreptitiously expelled .

The presence of more and more chemicals that are difficult to handle (due to their toxicity, for example), was facilitating that road, the rectilinear destination of goods since the dawn of modernity, with industrial development booming. But it was the literally unstoppable invasion of thermoplastics in the mid-twentieth century that was the great trigger for a conformation of garbage as an ungovernable entity. It was the ideological rise of consumerism, use-and-tire, the apotheosis of the new, the depreciation of the used, the mending, the darning, the refried food. The triumph, in a word, of american way of life. For example, in the home kitchen, all those dishes, even tasty, such as old clothes, torrejas, bread puddings, cakes, scrambled eggs of all kinds, meatballs, which were made so often with the remains of the previous meal, were disappearing , of the tables and of our social imaginary. In reality, the consumerist culture has cornered the home kitchen itself, today "nourished" by deliveries; even the language comes from Big Brother.

It was also the arrival of the avalanche of packaging. The business world, riding on understandable reasons, such as hygiene, but in reality, more driven by increases in profitability than by population health, was universalizing packaged products, abolishing bulk systems.

With a double consequence: on the one hand, as Vandana Shiva says, the hands were becoming criminal agents par excellence: a substance touched or brushed by hands, was something punishable, punishable or rejectable. As if the packaging was a guarantee of purity and quality. And on the other hand, the creation of containers, often double, triple, quadruple, magnified the problem of waste production. To that scissors that mutilates and magnifies a problem we should add a third aspect, –we would have to speak of a triple consequence then– as or more problematic than the previous ones: the containers that are used, and those that are used the most, are far from be inert. With which, we have introduced, modernization through, an unknown or almost unknown pathogenic factor in traditional times.
Let's think that, p. For example, for the treatment of mineral waters, a couple of centuries ago, porcelain spigots were used because they were the most inert material known, so as not to contaminate the rising water. Or that the Roman architect Vitruvius, two thousand years ago, read well, two thousand years ago, he discouraged the use of lead pipes for the distribution of drinking water in Rome, Pompeii and cities of the empire, because it is a metal that releases substances, not exactly friendly to humans (lead poisoning was already perfectly diagnosed). Modern Western European society, very plump, installed lead pipes everywhere, as a sign of progress, during the 19th and 20th centuries and not only for cold water but even for hot water, when hot water is literally “eaten” said pipes (and therefore, humans ingest the lead thus extracted and passed through the respective taps).

Industrial society, which cleared the vision to perceive a series of unprecedented events in human societies, at the same time, blinded us to see other aspects of nature that "traditional" societies did know how to see.

What we gained in technique we lost in common sense

This is the only way we were able to “accept” soft plastics as packaging for our food, when there is conclusive research that these materials begin to melt and release carcinogenic substances at just 40 degrees Celsius. The temperature of any River Plate summer. [4]
But here we are facing the second of those disasters: the mountain of garbage grew without measure or concert with the irrepressible agglomeration of containers. It is what we see today in any field, in any sea.

If we come to understand that a garbage production system has been set up that has been of interest to certain industrial branches that have expanded beyond recognition, such as petrochemicals, the packaging industry, and others, then, It is easy to see that any attempt to change this state of affairs does not go so much through consumption –which is always late and badly to the problem–, but through production, which somehow configures the state of affairs.
And if we realize this, we can also warn that "the axis" does not go through awareness campaigns, or visual or television propaganda, or through teaching exhortations to children in schools, although all this contributes something.

The situation is more of an economic and political nature.

Economic, because this state of affairs negatively or positively affects business profitability.
Political, because decisions are needed to channel business activity, for example, and general material activity, to avoid p. eg, environmentally burdensome or sanitary dangerous packaging, and many other channels.

But above all, it is a cultural issue. If significant sectors of the population do not come problem in our daily lives, it will be difficult to get something, well, durable. Because it is our culture that is at stake. It is a cultural fact, although it may seem atrocious to some of us, to accept carcinogenic substances and then rely on legal and official medicine to obtain early detection, which is the desideratum of so many “fight against cancer” campaigns). [5]

If decisive sectors of the population prefer to live as they do, in any case with early detection (of cancers, allergies, anemia, autoimmune diseases, and other pathologies not only bodily but also "mental"), the garbage is unstoppable. And the laboratories will celebrate, will continue to celebrate, such a “choice”.

Culture is what you do because you can't not do it

If people notice that our system of life lies to us, and in reality it is, little by little, more and more, a system of death, perhaps there can be a change. But it will have to be a change with differentiated cultural traits. The first r will have to be relevant: reject the use of uncyclable material, such as p. ex. the blixter, the tetrabrik, the paper envelopes with "the comfortable" plastic window, the laminated papers (which are not used to recycle as plastic and less as paper), the non-rechargeable batteries, reject the "generous" use of plastic bags that they end up rolling with the wind through seas and soils, rural and urban, rejecting food laden with pesticides, daring to reuse things, to recycle. But not that “someone else” does it, but based on a personal assumption: when someone no longer supports a poisoning, what is usually called in the context a contamination, for example, that means that in their cultural fabric they no longer may to incorporate (literally put it in the body).

When a twenty-story building with an area of ​​half a block around has inhabitants who cannot bear to shed every day a ton of matter jealously hidden in black consortium bags, and begin to demand that, for example, food remains, be composted In the garden that they have with only grass, we will be talking about cultural changes, changes in everyday culture, which implies changes in attitude and situations where one can no longer behave as he did before and saw others do it.

As long as we continue with technicians to see how to make the cartoneros are buried alive in large enclosures with hoppers so that "they" separate what they can and return the useless to the main channel, we will not have advanced much, rather, we will have been deceived by a one more time. Because humans have the ability to do it sometimes.

* Member of the teaching team of the Free Chair of Human Rights, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, free-lance journalist and editor of the biannual magazine futures of the planet, society and each one.

(1) If these ditches, in addition to postponing rather than solving the problem of pollution from everyday waste, served to solve "two in one", depositing human remains that were "harvested" by the dictatorship then, it is a question of those that have remained, so less so far, no response.

[2] In Buenos Aires, shortly after, with the Telerman administration, something of the kind happened, although with a pilgrim attempt to classify between dry and wet waste. Nor then did any progressive garbage specialist come out to point out that the highly promoted and very expensive containers went in the opposite direction to any criterion of separation in origin, one of the few measures that, faced with a cultural background based on awareness of the issue, makes any sense.

[3] Dictated at the R. Rojas Foundation, at the end of 2007.

[4] See "Detener al PVC" by the editorial team of Integral, no 98, Barcelona, ​​February 1988 and our "Migration Policy" Page 12, Green Bulletin, May 24, 1992, republished in Planetary Citizenship, V. Bacchetta (comp.), Federation International of Environmental Journalists, Montevideo, 2000; "ALARA: another technological myth", Revista del Sur, no 70, Montevideo, June 10. 1997; Garbage and culture, brochure of the seminar-workshop of Ecology and Human Rights of the Free Chair of Human Rights, of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the UBA, 2nd. four-month period 2004; "The petrochemical industry and its self-indulgent vision on the planetary disaster", from 6/21/2006, www.ecoportal.net/content/view/full/60988 of 3/7/2006, http://www.serviciosesenciales.com.ar , s / f.

[5] See Samuel Epstein, Oncologist, Author of The Breast Cancer Program, Chilling Research on Breast Cancer in the USA: Epstein sustains with irrefutable documentation and evidence that the great American organizations in the area; The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) are fighting for early detection, not for prevention because "more people are living from cancer than dying from it."


Video: How social media breaks the wall between work and leisure (July 2022).


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