Wednesday, May 08, 2013

One of the Most Dangerous Occupations is Wasteful

Yesterday was the day in the Durham, North Carolina neighborhood where I live, for “getting it up” as sanitation workers often refer to the weekly pick up of garbage and recyclables.

A sleek, newer model, Leach rear-loader came up the street interrupting an exchange with my neighbor about food waste and his past as an underwear model and Broadway musical performer.

That line of work (picking up garbage and recyclable, not modeling underwear/musicals) was the fourth most dangerous line of work in 2011.  It varies slightly each year but it is always more dangerous than law enforcement or firefighting.

Our neighborhood is usually served by one of those one-person trucks with a long arm that reaches out and empties the container.  A crew of three operated the rear-loader yesterday, reminding me of my job as a summer vacation replacement working on a a much earlier rear-loader model out west in 1967 between my first and second year of college.

Back then the waste stream for food was proportionately 50% less than it now.  Even so, my parents may not have known the danger I was in.

Or maybe they knew that work on a ranch or a farm such as the one where I was born and spent my early years in the nook of Idaho just outside Yellowstone Park ranks during most years just ahead of or slightly behind refuse and recyclable collectors as the most dangerous.

Maybe they were just glad that my stint spraying Lodgepole Pines to fight an infestation of Mountain Pine Beetle in the northern reaches of Targhee National Forest lasted only a month.  Logging is almost always the second most dangerous occupation, although I’m sure inhaling DDT overspray had its risks, too.

Picking Up is a new book by anthropologist Dr. Robin Nagle at NYU.  Focused on New York City, it is an informative and funny history of sanitation work over the last several hundred years, including a time when people who picked up the garbage were celebrated even more than doctors as lifesavers doctors.Food Waste

Discarding unused food may be one of the most wasteful behaviors in America.  A recent report by food and agriculture scientist Dana Gunders, entitled Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill, is fascinating.

In the U.S. food eats up 10% of energy, uses 50% of land and 80% of all freshwater consumed here.  According to the analysis, “Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion of food each year,” fueling a significant portion of greenhouse gases and climate change.

It hasn’t always been this way.  In the 1970s, a few years after my stint on a sanitation truck, Americans were wasting half as much food. Currently, throughout the supply chain and in places such as our homes and restaurants, we’re wasting 38% of the grain, 50% of the seafood, 52% of the fruits and vegetables, 22% of the meat and 20% of the milk produced.

Part of the solution is eating food grown closer to home.  The number of farmer’s markets have more than doubled to more than 6,000 in just the last 10 years.  Unfortunately, in supermarkets up to one in seven perishables delivered is thrown away.

Losses such as these are also a problem in conference hotels and convention centers.  Within a couple of years from when we launched the community-destination marketing organization for Durham in 1989, that organization became one of the first in a network called “Food for the Hungry.”

Coordinated by Profession Convention Management Association (PCMA,) it launched one of the first programs to coordinate the donation of unused perishable or prepared food from banquets to organizations here serving people in need.

The issue of food waste has also spawned worldwide growth in a phenomena known as “Freeganism” including a reality TV show called Waste Cooking, not to be confused with the episode of Seinfeld where the character George Constanza gets caught rescuing an éclair from the trash at a dinner party.

A report in the U.K. estimates removing food scraps there from landfills would abate the equivalent in greenhouse gases of a fifth of all the cars in that country.

Hopefully, I haven’t used any semantics that a new study shows can turn off many Conservatives.  But at least I know they may be attentive from the perspective of sanitation workers.  Conservatives are nearly twice as likely to watch TV shows about blue-collar jobs as Liberals.

Only slightly less likely are Independents such as me!

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