Trashed: by Derf Backderf. Abrams ComicArt: New York, 2015.
Review by Eve C., MCR-in-training.
Image source: http://images.tcj.com/2016/02/Derf-coverWB.jpg
As MCRs-in-training, we were fortunate enough to hear from an Edmonton waste collector, who described how he and his team go about providing the important service of moving our waste from curbside to the Edmonton Waste Management Centre. It was good to hear that Edmontonians generally are very supportive of our waste system. We heard about kids who wave to their waste collector every day, senior citizens who wait by their curb to chat with their collector, and a homeowner who responded immediately when she realized her collector had slipped and fallen on his daily route.
With this background of a first-hand description of waste collection in my city today, I was very interested to read Trashed, a graphic novel all about garbage and garbage collection.
For those of us who toss our trash in a bag and set it out at night, only to have it whisked away before we wake up, Trashed provides an eye-opening look at the journey waste takes. Derf Backderf, drawing on his experience as a waste collector and citing statistics about waste in America, portrays a year in the life of an American small-town garbage man in the late 1970s. His tale tells how our waste goes from curbside to landfill and the people who work hard every day to make this happen. Backderf’s portrayal also contrasts with the more modern technology, safety, and work culture that waste collectors in Edmonton enjoy.
The novel begins with the unnamed and unemployed protagonist finally giving in to his long-suffering mother’s request to clean up his pigsty of a room. Depositing his waste in a pile in and around the garbage can, he is overwhelmed by the revolting smell. He decides to abandon the task, prophetically stating, “Aw, screw it…. the garbagemen can deal with it.”
Shortly after, a vague newspaper ad leads to a job on a municipal garbage truck, driving through the summer, fall, winter and spring seasons of garbage, each with their own piquant details. Summer brings heat, which does not improve the odour of garbage, while winter includes solid masses of frozen garbage in cans waiting to slide onto the toes of the unwary, and blizzards that shut down almost everything – except the need to haul garbage. The at-times overwhelming portrayal of the waste we create is leavened by a generous dose of humour at the challenges and small victories of daily life.
Interspersed with these adventures in waste are asides about the big picture of garbage. Interludes include the history of garbage, diagrams of modern landfills and their vulnerability to leakage, and diagrams of the ever-increasing quantities and composition of waste in America. These tie the indifference of individuals, whose lack of ownership towards their garbage starts from the minute it leaves their houses, to the revolting and dangerous effects of huge quantities of waste on both the individuals who work to keep our urban environments clean, and to the planet as a whole.
Although at first not overly excited about the job he has somehow found, as time goes on, the narrator becomes more familiar with the rhythms of his job. Some residents, including the holy grail – the home that produces one tidy garbage bag per week – pleasantly surprise him. After a year has passed, much to his surprise, he decides to stay working in waste collection.
Overall, this graphic novel is an entertaining look at a side of life most of us do not often consider. Backderf vividly portrays the day-to-day details of the reality of garbage collection alongside our society’s exponentially increasing culture of disposal, resulting in an entertaining and unsettling look at the world of waste.
Postscript: Trashed in Edmonton
Taking ownership of our waste involves many different aspects: reducing the quantity of garbage we produce, properly diverting waste wherever possible, and once we have only the proper items in the garbage bag, ensuring that our trash is ready for collection.
Although this last aspect is perhaps sometimes forgotten in the focus on waste reduction, Backderf’s description of the daily routine of waste collectors shows that an individual can make a difference, especially in the life of a waste collector. Here are four simple asks that can keep our Edmonton waste collectors safe and working efficiently to take care of our waste:
· Keep it light (make sure you can lift your garbage with one hand);
· Box and label “sharps”;
· Use the right can; and
· And make it safe to reach your trash
For more info on helping waste collectors in Edmonton check out this FAQ.
And view this video for the top three ways to make your waste collector’s job easier.
You can borrow the book, Trashed, from the Edmonton Public Library.