Pure
The Stench of Love

An Orgy of Waste

I've blogged before about German garbage customs. When apartment-dwellers move out in Germany, they must make an appointment with the local Sperrmuell (oversized garbage) service to dispose of things too large to fit in regulation waste bins -- cheap furniture, refrigerators, TVs and the like. They stack them on the sidewalk, and wait for them to be picked up, either by the city or by a private contractor. Before the authorities arrive, though, roving groups of Eastern Europeans and Turks have usually thinned out the pile quite a bit, stuffing everything that might have residual value into cheap vans and whisking it away to their small apartments, or to flea markets in Lodz or Plovdiv. I call this informal recycling, and it's as important to urban ecology as mushrooms are to forest ecology. If any computers, refrigerators, or TVs are left after the informal recycling, they are sent to special processing facilities to be dismantled and recycled or otherwise disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way (g). It's these strategies that are behind Germany's ability to reduce (g) the amount of trash produced per person in recent years, and to re-process over half of all garbage.

Now let's cross the Atlantic. Below we see a poignant video report what happens when people lose their homes in the suburbs and exurbs that sprouted up during the housing bubble. The video's kind of long, so I'll summarize the key points: when they can't afford their homes anymore, many of these suburb-dwellers abandon their property disappear without leaving a forwarding address. They leave behind toys, large-screen TVs, computers, even family photos and urns full of relatives' ashes. After the homebuyers have vanished, the "trash-out" firms arrive. Their crews remove every single item from the house so it can be prepared for resale. Since the home-dwellers only lived there a few years, most of the things they own were new. All of it -- lamps, tables, toys, tools, mattresses -- gets dumped into a nearby landfill. No recycling, no donation to charity (though the owner of the trash-out firm, to his credit, tries occasionally). Seven hundred families a day lose their homes to foreclosure in Southern California. This one firm alone dumps fifteen truckloads a day into the landfill.

In a priceless bit of symbolism, a man then arrives to turn the dead brown grass on the lawn green...by spray-painting it. At least he uses biodegradable paint. 

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