Life at the dump was full of relationships and a range of human emotions experienced each day. The stench was unending and the mountains of garbage changed only as they were combed by the residents in the search for discarded treasures to use to make life easier or to sell to buy enough rice for the day.
Mounds of stinking trash could spontaneously combust and burn their feet when they were too near. For one small family everything changed when the grandfather said the day would be lucky. A mother found a small book with beautiful pages. She picked it up for her sick son, hoping it might bring him joy to see the pictures. Nothing worked while he was so sick, so the book laid unused when the Rent Collector arrived for the rent only to pick up the book and begin to read it. The mother saw she could read and offered her book if Rent Collector would teach her to read. Reading she believed could make their lives better and if so, surely her son could be healthier.
Their relationship began with a book that changed both of their lives and the lives of their families. This book took me to a garbage dump and from there to learning in a new way about the history of Cambodia, a place I never thought could be so relevant to us now.
The dump is what we will have surrounding us all in America if we continue living as we have as a "throw away" culture. Much of what is accumulating is made from plastic and plastic comes to us from fossil fuels. How? The Magic of making something out of waste is how plastic came to be.
What is one man's trash is another man's treasure.
In the past once oil products were processed for gas and oil for cars, heating oil and such, the residues were waste. When my family lived in Big Spring, Texas, with the wind in the right direction we could smell Cosden Refinery, where my best friend's dad worked. He wore a suit to work, my dad worked for Shell Pipeline wore ironed khakis. Her dad worked on a new products and would bring home "things" he had created. One was what I used as a cake-stand made from what we call PLASTIC. The refinery's waste had been costing them. Plastic has since become integral to our lives even being found in the fish in the deepest oceans. All we have used and discarded will last for the next 500 to 1,000 years before degrading, virtually every piece ever made still exists in some form.
The characters in Rent Collector found dignity and demonstrated to the readers how neither poverty nor place has to limit their humanity.
We don't have the harsh lives of adverse poverty for the most part. But we do endure odors when winds favor us. We know and sometimes acknowledge our fears of waste piles both left all over the Tar Creek Superfund site as well as the rubble at BF Goodrich, the asbestos and the benzene beneath the soils. Both provided the jobs we valued and left our workers abandoned when they jerked to standstills. Both left waste behind as their legacy.
Our communities wait and watch as the stuff left behind just sits there. Our workers did the work following standard operating procedures of the time under orders of the company and the standard for them was profit. It costs money to clean up after yourself. They found it cheaper to pay fines if they came, and bet on company loyalty to keep bad practices quiet.
We fear piles of waste coming from expanded poultry facilities and the implications of spreading too much in our watershed. We have begun to organize our trash pulling papers, cardboard, plastic bottles to recycle just as China rejects them. Decisions will have to be made but towns, counties may soon not be allowed to make the tiniest decision to help reduce the piles of waste since ordinances won't be allowed to ban single use plastic bags or other single use containers even straws! if Oklahoma House Bill 1001 passes marked as an EMERGENCY.
Our state is going to protect even the tiniest oil industry products.
Our waste will grow because China and other countries are not buying used plastics like they were and US has not created enough uses yet. Piles in some states are being burned, others just piling them higher in dumps we pay to rent.
Each of us can pay less rent. Reuse grocery bags, make homemade ones, take containers for leftovers when you eat out. Buy straws you can reuse, take your own cup for coffee or at quick stops for pop.
The state can't regulate our decisions, we pay our own rent.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim