Monday, February 23, 2009

a shopping cart economy

I was sitting in my home when I heard the sound of glass bottles clanking together one by one. I got off of my sofa and looked out the window to see a presumably homeless man transferring the worthy contents of my recycling bin to his shopping cart and then I pondered this.

I thought what if. What if there was no recycling? Not just the separation of recyclables and perishables by the homeowners and tenants themselves but the overall lack of monetary incentive to recycle i.e. recycling machines at the local supermarkets.

There is an entire separate economy that is sustaining a particular lifestyle and it's all in part due to recycling. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Sometimes it's strange how things just fall into place and are taken for granted. What if we as society removed these machines? What would the people dependent upon them do to survive? Would theft, robberies and crime in general increase? Would the sudden influx of job seekers be a detriment to the employed and the unemployment system?

I'm sure everyone that partakes in this practice has a different reason for doing so. I'm glad that there are means for these persons to legitimately raise enough money to be able to eat and survive. But it is strange how something one does to survive in lieu of working becomes work itself. They're like farmers reaping the harvest. Perhaps "glass farmer" or "aluminum farmer" would be a fitting term.

I am not sure if anyone has ever really delved into this particular subject before but I'm sure that there is more to think about than comes to mind at first glance.
What most people probably see is just some guy picking through their receptacles for bottles and cans. What I saw out there today was a worker out on his daily route, competing against the other workers on their routes trying to gather the most crop so that he will be able to survive another day. This isn't some fly by night operation. This is something that most likely takes a while to learn. I'm sure the veterans have all the routes and pick up days in the city memorized and the early bird does indeed get the worm. I have seen the same said persons in my neighborhood and also miles away at other times.

Perhaps one day I will gather enough courage to ask them of their story. The things I would like to know about them are:
-Are they in fact homeless? Sometimes I wonder if some of these folks aren't actually homeless but just poor and trying to raise extra money. For those who aren't homeless I would ask why they choose this as an alternative to procuring legitimate employment. For most homeless persons I believe the biggest obstacle standing in the way of gaining employment is not having a residence, a shower, clean clothing, and a phone. To them I would ask why they choose not to take advantage of shelters as a stepping stone to help get them back up on their feet.
-How they ended up homeless.
-When did they realize that bottle collecting was going to be a reality as a means to their survival?
-If offered gainful employment would you accept it?

I believe that some of the people do this because they absolutely must and that they would love the opportunity to pick themselves back up and get a job and their own residence.
Contrary to that I also believe that some of the people that partake in this practice do it because they would rather survive on their own terms than be a subject to authority and contribute to society.

To the ones that have lost their jobs and their homes and perhaps have no family to turn to. For those that really have no choice but to go through life surviving each day so they can make it to the next. For those that would be grateful for an opportunity to have a home and be employed and do everything they could to improve their lives... my heart goes out to you.