Some people say “we are what we eat,” but maybe what we throw away is just as telling.
In profiling the film “Raw Material” about the garbage pickers of Athens, writer Jennifer Hattam points out how life has changed for these scavengers now that the entire country is facing an economic crisis:
In the shadow of the Acropolis, they set off before dawn. Men and boys driving rusty trucks, pushing heavy hand-carts, towing wagons behind battered motorcycles. As the city slowly comes to life, they are already well into their day’s work, scouring alleys and Dumpsters for old box-spring mattresses, appliances, car parts, anything they can salvage and sell at a scrap yard for a few dollars a day.
Many Athens residents have been struggling to get by since economic and political crisis erupted in Greece, threatening to engulf much of Europe. But the estimated 80,000 Athenians who collect and process scrap in the city’s informal economy were eking out their meager livings back when the rest of the city was still living large.
Having more people share their woes has made times even tougher for the garbage pickers, who remain at the margins of Greek society and face increased competition for shrinking resources. [Filmmaker Christos] Karakepelis says two or three times as many people are now picking over smaller and smaller pieces of trash as sharply reduced consumption by the middle class means fewer bonanzas like old refrigerators left out in the street.
In some ways, the trash in Athens (or lack thereof, in this case) illustrates a surprisingly complete story about an entire country’s economic well-being. As Karakepelis puts it, society’s “failure to consider the plight of some of its poorest urban dwellers may have blinded it to early warning signs of broader problems in Greece.”
Could we apply this idea to the trash in our ocean? What could we learn from analyzing what ends up there? What does your own trash say about you?