A Lesson in Waste and Bad Taste

Have you ever really noticed how much shit people throw away? I’ve been boycotting my car recently, not for environmental reasons, just because it’s a piece of crap, and when you slow down from 30 mph to 3 you really see all the garbage we toss onto the street.

I’ve been boycotting my car recently, not for environmental reasons, just because it’s a piece of crap, and when you slow down from 30 mph to 3 you really see all the garbage we toss onto the street. Not just the little stuff like fast food wrappings and empty water bottles, but TVs, computers, and furniture. It makes me wonder how many people go back for their hubcap when they hear it pop off?

This couch has been in front of my apartment building for a month.

No one has moved out of my apartment building either, so did someone leave it there, and passes it every day for the last month unconcerned that they’re responsible for it?

Or did someone drive from down the block and drop it off here so it wouldn’t be in front of their building? Who did this couch belong to and where is it going to end up? Surely there’s usable wood and recyclable metal in there. Someone will wind up with a few dollars from it.

Like the clothes you give to charity, that you think are going to go to the homeless, or disadvantaged children. This is where they end up.

The charities, after thinning the resalable domestic items and selling a bunch of the textile for use as industrial rags, sell the rest of the clothing to companies that ship them over to Africa, where they’re unloaded for cheap prices in “bend-over markets” to improverished Africans.

In the process the local African garment and textile industry are unable to compete against the cheap, and highly-sought after, American hand-me-downs. Not much money makes it to the homeless or the poor disadvantaged kids in America either. A small percentage.

So why do we allow this to happen?

Probably because it feels good to believe that we’re being thoughtful citizens by donating last season’s wardrobe to charity and questioning the ethics of this supply chain to Africa is too sticky an idea to get into. It’s bad enough to try to justify filling up the Navigator and spending $5 at Starbucks every day while the homeless man standing out front with the hungry, glazed look in his eye still sleeps underneath the freeway overpass with the pigeons.

From an ABC report last December.

Neil Kearney, general secretary of the Brussels based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation says the practice is exploitative, “It is neo colonialism in its purest form. It’s exporting poverty to Africa, a continent that is already exceedingly poor.”

This state of affairs upsets AnnMarie Resnick, a woman we met in Manhattan while she was donating clothes, who told ABC News: “It stinks. I don’t like it, but I would still give. There are a lot of people who are going to constantly profit, because this is probably happening with really nice people. With us ā€” and we profit too ā€” we get a tax deduction. If I knew how to send to Africa myself, I would.”

But on the other side of the argument, you could think of things in a different light, like this guy.

Brill, of the Secondary Recycled Textiles Association, told ABC News that it is a win-win situation. “It provides thousands of jobs here at home [in the U.S.] and it provides hundreds of thousands of jobs in Africa.” And he added: “It also diverts waste material that would otherwise go to land fill. It goes to recycling, so it helps to protect the environment.”

In other words, we’re dumping our trash over there and charging them for it. Charities pay their bills, exporters get rich, and Africans get to sport sweaters with the names of colleges they’ve never heard of on them.

Meanwhile, back in LA, there’s a couch available in the valley if you need one. You might as well pick yourself up a shelving unit also.

Maybe you need a mattress?

Let’s think about those springs and if they’re going to find new life somewhere?

Or are they just destined for a desert landfill?

Maybe another couch to go in the den?

All of this furniture popped up within less than six blocks from my apartment.

You could fill up your house with the junk dropped off on the curbs of Los Angeles. Some people certainly do. I found a mighty good lamp on the street one night. There wasn’t a moving truck around or an opened door. Just two lamps sitting there. I looked around and made a split second decision to take one of the lamps, knowing that such a good find wouldn’t last until morning.

The lamp worked but not the knob, it was sensitive and only worked when left between clicks, thus the reason someone was probably tossing it away. However, I’ve become adept at finding that sweet spot.

I sometimes wonder if it was possible that the owner was only leaving the lamp unguarded for a second and hadn’t meant to give it away.

Maybe someone was bringing a lot of stuff home and left the lamps behind momentarily. If there was more clutter with the lamps I wouldn’t have grabbed anything, I would have thought someone was moving in the middle of the night. Maybe a lover’s spat or a fleeing renter? Nothing big. They just looked like a couple of lamps that no one wanted anymore.

But I coveted the lamp.

My only reservation was that the lamps were on the sidewalk, not on the grass next to the curb. If it had been on the grass, that’s obviously fair game, once it passes the sidewalk that’s an open invitation to help yourself.

But the lamp was on the sidewalk, in no-man’s land, hence I sometimes wonder…

I don’t believe I stole the lamp, but it’s possible. If you’re reading this and that’s your lamp and you hadn’t meant to give it away, I’m sorry.

As far as my old clothes go, I think next time I’m taking them directly to a homeless mission downtown rather than the Goodwill.


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