Waste Collectors

The disposable foodware lifecycle is not equitable. The lifecycle includes upstream (raw material extraction, production, transportation) and downstream (disposal). Last week we discussed how marginalized populations are disproportionately affected by every aspect of the disposal foodware lifecycle. This week we wanted to focus on one particular segment of that lifecycle that is arguably the most personable to us as consumers but massively overlooked in terms of social equality: waste collectors.

Waste collectors are the individuals that are picking up your trash, recycling, and compost. They are predominately people of color, immigrants, and lower socioeconomic status

In the US, 99% of them are men, their average salary is $37,000. They are essential employees (even though it took the federal government some time to declare them that), directly interacting with our refuse. This high exposure mandatory position has resulted in massive coronavirus outbreaks in their facilities, and an uptick in worker absenteeism. As the NYTimes noted, “Of [New York’s] 10,000 sanitation employees, 628 have tested positive for the coronavirus, a spokeswoman for the agency said. Seven have died from confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and another six from presumed cases.” 

These people handle our garbage so we don’t have to. 

What we all can do:

  • Show appreciation for these people like putting a drawing in our windows
  • Help make their work more pleasant like wiping down our waste carts, or ensuring we sort our materials properly 
  • Ask ourselves if we’d want to deal with the waste in the condition that it is in (lightly rinse the container before tossing it, refrain from having liquids in your carts, do not overflow the waste carts)