Trashy Toronto is a learning experience

For about a week now, municipal workers in Toronto, Ontario have been on strike–including those responsible for garbage pickup and waste management. In a recent Yahoo! News article, it was reported that people are starting to worry about the state of Toronto–tourists are getting disgusted and parents are concerned about the health of their family and community.

The city has temporarily arranged for a few sites where residents of Canada’s most populous city can take their trash to dump it in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind manner that is pervasive in the West. And apparently one must cross the picketlines in order to dump their rubbish. The press reported the words of Sarah Beals, whose neighbourhood has been transformed into a dumpsite. The basketball courts and playground near her home were designated as a dumpsite and she has become worried about the ramifications this could could have on her friends and family. Not only have local children lost a place to play this summer, the garbage has been rotting away there for a week and it could quite easily pose a health hazard to those who would like to play in the playground after the garbage has been removed.

In this situation, one thing seems certain: out of sight and out of mind are becoming more difficult for Torontonians. Although I feel sorrow for the millions of people that this strike is affecting,  I believe that there is a positive aspect to it as well. First, many more people may be apt to see just how much their garbage piles up–and if it doesn’t pile up in front of them, it will on some other part of our delicate planet. This may lead people to take up reducing, reusing, and recycling–in that order! Second, the situation reminds me of a very mild case of what is happening in many nations in the two-thirds world. As I said in an ealier post, children in the Philippines live on garbage dumps and have never known a playground that was ever not a mound of garbage. And for these people, there is no strike, so there is no possibility of having garbage workers get back to work and clean up the mess. The mess has always been the basis of their existence, and unless we reduce, reuse, and recycle–and quit sending our trash to impovershed areas of the world–the mess will always be with them.

Such situations also remind me of Gehenna, the garbage dump of Jerusalem during Jesus’ lifetime. This is also the place where unwanted babies and children were left to die horrible deaths. And, as I mentioned in an article I wrote in 2007, Jesus, in picking up a child, identified with women who sought out abandoned infants and children and picked them up in order to care for them and save them from Gehenna (this information comes from Judy Gundry-Volf’s chapter in Marcia Bunge’s The Child in Christian Thought). Places like Gehenna still exist. Except now people live in these squalor conditions for the entirety of their lives!  The garbage strike in Toronto has allowed people to get a very small taste of what such a life is like, and hopefully it has moved some people to advocate for the improvement of such situations. When things return to normal in Toronto, will we also return to our excessive lives or will we take up Jesus’ cause and help those whose lives are characterized by a perpetual garbage strike?

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