We’re staying home more so it would make sense that we would create more trash, 25% more according to an estimate by the trade group, Solid Waste Association of North America. In Alpharetta, Georgia, for example, one worker there said he used to pick up about 17 or 18 tons of trash a day, now it is 22. In fact some of the bins overflow and despite robotic arms can be hard to pick up upsetting some trash workers who may need to pick up what falls and because of the virus are particularly concerned. The virus also is behind the fact that offices tend to be emptier than they normally are and those bins are not very full. Somehow the way trash removal is set up it is not usually possible to reshuffle routes and workers. One problem is that some routes may be done by subcontractors which city sanitation departments cannot reschedule in the same way. Another is that in many localities particularly in the East, alleys behind buildings are too narrow for many trucks and specially designed trucks are used to remove trash there. If these new patterns continue, then changes will have to be made. They will entail shorter days, shorter routes and will then all be more manageable. Trash workers say that the upside for them is that people are now beginning to realize that what they do is a hard and dirty job. They suspect that being home more means they are more likely to see the trash trucks, be more aware of trash removal. As a sanitation worker in Georgia put it, “the world would stop if we stopped picking up.” Indeed sanitation workers are like first responders, nurses and doctors and the army of delivery people, those who make our adjustments to the virus that much easier. They ought to be on our list of those we are grateful for.
We know there is hunger in the United States. We know that the virus has made this hunger worse. But rarely, safe for very few of us, think about the persistence of hunger. Photographer Brenda Anne Kenneally did, she grew up in difficult circumstances and right before the virus wanted to photograph the people and places where there is persistent hunger. When it hit in March she just went ahead, because she said, “The situations that define a life of scarcity were becoming democratized.” The NYT published her photographic essay, America at Hunger’s Edge”, while Adrian Nicole LeBlanc wrote an accompanying article summarizing the history of helping the hungry. The point LeBlanc makes is that hunger has been treated as an emergency, as something temporary, not as something systemic, and therefore the causes of hunger have not been addressed. Lineally found that in Houston in 2019 the Mamie George Community Center gave 567,000 pounds of food—understandably a number almost matched from March to July 2020. During the Depression our awareness of hunger started with Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph “Migrant Mother”, a mother whose face is a poignant depiction of hunger with three of her children, a picture which increased popularity for New Deal programs. The Federal Surplus Commodities program grew out of the Depression, but hunger persisted and in the 60’s when it came to the fore led to the beginning of food stamps. The program has undergone several changes, and had led to offshoots with several names, but usually leaves out many of the hungry, or else covers only a portion of the food needs.
We are more and more aware of economic inequalities and their consequences, and looking at hunger as a symptom and in its socioeconomic and political contexts is overdue. The causes are systemic and addressing them falls into the realm of moral imperatives.
It was 90 degrees one day, I waited until it was cooler to walk to the store, and noticed many less people on our street walking their dogs. Most of us avoid heat exposure, something many mail carriers cannot do. I have a friend who delivers mail in Tucson, Arizona, where the temperature can easily be 115F, and of course when he’s driving, the temperature is at least 10 degrees higher in his vehicle. His route causes him to walk 9.7 miles a day whether it’s hot, or raining, or cold, or blustery, or whatever extremes of temperatures we all usually shun. The Center for Public Integrity recently published an article “Extreme Heat Doesn’t stop the Mail—Even at the Cost of Postal Workers’ Health” which informs us that OSHA the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has cited the Postal Service for placing at risk of illness or even death from heat exposure over 900 workers since 2012. Inspectors observed workers with heat related symptoms such as extreme cramps, vomiting while walking, losing consciousness, shooting pains down their legs and in their chest. During their observation period at least 5 carriers died from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, hyperthermia or heart failure. From January 2015 to October 2018, 93 postal employees were hospitalized. And then there is the issue with vehicles. In 2017 70% of all vehicles did not have air conditioning and there doesn’t seem to be much progress in making sure that has or will be changed in the near future. Heat poses many dangers to postal workers and the US Postal Service hasn’t addressed those dangers says the article, has not issued standards, has not changed conditions, has not taken enough measures to protect its workforce. The USPS is a vital part of how our society functions, and as we realize this in the midst of budget and operational cuts along with other USPS upheavals, it is important for us to stop and recognize how much we owe our mail carriers.
As we know the virus has altered more activities and affected more economic sectors than we can quickly recall. One is the movie industry searching for how productions could safely resume. Universal Studios latest sequel to Jurassic World can perhaps now set an example, or at least answer some questions. The $200 million production spent $9 million making sure cast and crew would be safe. It issued a 107-page manual and involved the cast in the preparations something that is usually not done. They rented a hotel, and the staff is tested. The cast and crew are tested Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The sets are restricted in the same ways they usually are when intimate scenes are shot. The cast puts on their own microphones. The set is sprayed with sanitizer daily and contacts are minimized in all ways possible. It’s not the details I found relevant, although most of us do enjoy a peek behind the scenes of movie making. What is relevant to all of us is that they did it. They found ways around the norms in order to be safe and do what is necessary to keep the virus at bay. And they did it in a way that is not as expensive as one might think. The cost added less than 5% to their budget.
I chose this article to base my post upon because it’s a reminder and a harbinger. Despite the demands and lack of social distancing inherent in movie production, the measures taken in this case bode well for the economy, certainly, but even more important, bode well for virus protection. They point the way for us to find ways to adjust. Many are rebelling, in denial or complacent, and here is a concrete example to help us accept that normal is now different, and most of all, an example that says yes, we can live with this virus!