I want to explore what makes some work lame and other work prestigious by comparing trash collection and health care. One is seen as lowly employment while the other is up on a pedestal. Environmental issues are widely ignored while our bodily comfort is given the highest priority. As a society, we miss the point that these are deeply interconnected.
Taking care of human bodies does require more formal education, but I imagine that trash collectors learn a lot on the job: what people throw away, what companies throw away, precisely what happens when things are thrown away, the environmental and health consequences of our sophisticated waste systems. Health care providers are a sought out source of wisdom, as they should be. The trash workers know that big companies send out-of-season inventory to a landfill rather than risk a dent in demand by donating it. Recycling and trash workers know exactly what materials people are good or bad at recycling regularly, but they’re not consulted about trying to improve this system that is at the heart of the struggle between man and nature.
The disconnectedness between man and nature, via our trash system impedes our attention to sustainable living, which encourages our wants. I met a kindergartener once who got made fun of for telling his class he wanted to be a trash man. His teacher put a stop to it by saying, “Hey! Can you imagine a world without trash collectors? They help keep our communities clean. Plus, they get to drive those big trucks… How cool is that!?” In contrast, I once met a premed student taking engineering classes just in case doctors stopped getting paid so much under Obamacare…
So, what if trash collectors were more empowered to participate in history? Personally, I wouldn’t want to drive a big stinky truck anymore than I’d want to stick my hands in an open wound, but I think if society did a better job of recognizing the important service in each, we could start to move away from this over arching problem of work and want.
Related: The Problem With Trash Cans