Friday, July 22, 2005

Philadelphia and Garbage

an anthropological essay

Perhaps my upbringing is too rural and uncivilized to understand the complexities of Philadelphian trash culture. Or maybe I am too – dare I say unwashed? – to participate in its rituals, which I find (to say the least) rather odd and nonsensical. One recent afternoon presents a characteristic example of the trash battles I once encountered on a weekly basis: I brought my garbage out to the nearest dumpster in my apartment complex. I can’t say I was surprised to see it overflowing with fully intact, empty cardboard boxes (with the lids closed!), along with a few requisite bags of trash ornamenting the tops of said boxes. I muttered some combination of swear words and clichés that added up to my annoyance at people who can’t bother to flatten a few boxes, stamp down a few milk cartons, or otherwise make their trash a little less massive.
My conscience and sense of disgust did not let me pile my trash further on top of this mountain of refuse. Instead I walked to the next nearest dumpster (a difference of approximately 25 yards, over in the next parking lot) and, delighted to find it only about two-thirds full, deposited my trash there. I felt good about doing my part for the environment and aesthetic of my respective parking lot, not to mention my karma. I walked back toward my building with a healthy dose of self-worth and a nice bolster to my ego.

Imagine my annoyance, then, when I found a middle-aged man standing on tiptoe, trying to pile his trash on top of the aforementioned dumpster pyramid. I looked askance at him, but I’m afraid my efforts were wasted; without the slightest acknowledgement of my annoyance, he got into his car and very cavalierly drove off. What gets me the most is that this man probably didn’t even give his action a second thought. It most likely never even occurred to him to walk the extra 25 yards and deposit his trash in a more suitable receptacle.

The next morning, as my roommate and I were driving somewhere important (although I can’t remember where), we encountered further anecdotal evidence that Philadelphians do not understand the laws of physics, nor courtesy, nor common sense, as these things pertain to garbage. Case in point: two women exited their apartment building, whose door is situated exactly halfway between two dumpsters – the infamous overflowing one and a nearly empty one. Imagine my bewilderment when they looked at both dumpsters, turned left, and piled their bags of trash on top of the mountain! As if to emphasize their piling accomplishment, the ladies did an about-face and walked to their car, which happened to be actually closer to the empty dumpster. Roommate and I laughed in a combination of disgust, amusement, total confusion, and glee that we were moving out of state within a month. We are still convinced that advances in waste management and disposal have not made their way to Philadelphia, and that Philadelphians are grossly uneducated in such matters.

But then, maybe it is we who are grossly unevolved; rather than skillfully obscuring refuse inside the receptacles, perhaps the goal is to obscure the receptacle itself. Could the receptacle be merely an outlet for an artistic outpouring for a labor-filled community? Could the trash pyramid be a status symbol, in that whoever has the largest pyramid has the most to throw away, and therefore the most affluence? A longitudinal anthropological study may provide answers to such questions, and perhaps bring a new level of enlightenment to the rest of the country’s trash culture.


Blogger JenniferJ said...

I love it!!!!

The sad part is that it is soooo true.

July 25, 2005 12:59 PM  
Blogger Sonja said...

Haha, funny. We have a bad recycle culture here. Even though we put recycle bins RIGHT NEXT TO the trash cans, people will still throw soda cans in the trash. Don't get it at all.

July 25, 2005 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Michel said...

A - t on encore le sens commun dans les grandes villes ? Mieux vaut en rire qu ' en pleurer !!!!
Sinon on déprimerait !
Amitié à toi Emily

July 26, 2005 1:18 PM  

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