Of Scrappers and Trashers

Due to the awesome economic climate being experienced here in America, two industries are seeing a surge in popularity. One relatively dated, the scrapping industry, made up primarily of undocumented workers who traverse our urban centers picking up waste metals (clothes dryers, chairs, ducts, etc...) in their trucks held together with bungee cords and duct tape. The other, a fresh industry born out of the massive amount of foreclosures plaguing the nation, thrives by trashing all the personal remnants left from the previous residents who were forced to leave everything on a whim. Basically, these guys go into the abandoned homes, often in upscale neighborhoods, and throw everything that isn't part of the house into a huge dumpster. Personal photos, 50" TV's, furniture, clothes, everything.

Now, both are benefiting highly from the unstable economy in the US, but I find a whole lot of contextual and ethical questions and comparisons that encircle these now flourishing industries. On the one hand, the Scrapping industry is largely made up of illegal immigrants living in poverty who know that they can sell materials to recycling centers and make a living under the radar. However, these scrappers are saving millions of pounds of metals from being blatantly wasted and saving an equivalent amount of raw material from being harvested and processed. They typically drive older trucks, which aren't the best on fuel consumption or emissions, but are mechanically maintained till their last dying mile. This isn't an industry producing millionaires or the well to-do, but an industry of working men, whether you agree with their citizenship or not. It's an industry built by an economic condition and it happens to be accidentally sustainable.

On the other hand, the Trashing industry is much more legitimized. Businesses have been created from coast to coast, generally owned and operated by real estate agents who have noted the increase in abandoned houses and the need for these houses to be emptied before they can be sold. Check out Foreclosure Ally for a great piece on this industry. These guys are actually getting paid to remove all the furnishing of these foreclosed homes so that they can be shown for sale. Consequently, they have no regard for the material and near 100% of the materials end up in a landfill. Now, I'm sure there are a few companies out there that try and recycle what they can, but the majorities simply load up dumpsters and ship them off to the landfill. Some companies have tried to work with goodwill and donate things but have never been successful in working out a system to save these materials….so it just gets thrown away.

In this situation, we can see that the economic conditions of the scrapper are much different than the trasher. The scrapper makes little money by recycling where as the trasher makes alot by throwing things away. It isn't economically viable for the trasher to save everything and try and sell it again where as it isn't economically viable for the scrapper to disregard waste materials of value. Why is it that those that are in a favorable economic situation are quick to discard everything? I would argue that those in a less favorable economic bracket are forced to live more sustainably than those that are well off. This is also evident in 3rd world countries like Nigeria who thrive off of our trash, recycling the western world's waste. Favela's are created using whatever materials are available. In America, Salvation Army's and thrift stores are set up so that lower class citizens can get clothes and furniture for much less than your average department store.

The lower class is inherently more environmentally friendly than the upper society, because they have to be. When is the rest of society going to catch up?

(Photo from Flickr user Damariew)
(Photo from Site Trashout Xpress)


Mario Ballesteros said...

that inland empire video is intense. green paint on dead lawns! more lynchean than lynch.


Ive noticed this trend heavily in my neighborhood - Bushwick, Brooklyn.
It is a shocking dose of reality.