What does New York's trash tell us about humanity, compassion, and valuing work?

CC BY 2.0 Flickr/ceegee-ceegee

Yesterday we wrote about how worldwide waste production could triple within the next 90 years. We haven't even come close to "peak trash" yet, and we're already facing myriad problems with how to reduce, collect, and deal with garbage. But who is really in the trenches helping us control the trash piles that heap up on every street corner? What is it like to be a sanitation worker? Anthropologist Robin Nagle set off to find out.

New York City residents produce 11,000 tons of garbage every day. Every day! This astonishing statistic is just one of the reasons Robin Nagle started a research project with the city's Department of Sanitation. She walked the routes, operated mechanical brooms, even drove a garbage truck herself--all so she could answer a simple-sounding but complicated question: who cleans up after us?

This short TED talk is an interesting look at what she learned. It's a wonderful speech and will chance how you look at the people who are doing dirty, yes, but incredibly important and usually thankless work to keep our towns and cities livable.

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