Waking to Waste

Trash. Waste. Garbage. Lovely topic, eh?

These are ordinary shots from around my community. 

Overflowing dumpsters are the norm; recycling bins the exception.

I don’t know about you, but when I am out and about, I rarely notice waste receptacles. Well, that’s a lie. It was once true. I only noticed trash when it was out of place, mainly if it was in my way or dangerously close to affecting my personal ideal of sanitation. 

Beyond deliberating who was going to heave it to the curb, trash never affected me.

It was a charmed life.

I woke from that haze in a South African township a few years ago, my hands deep in the polluted soil of a children’s playground.


The playground was actually a vacant lot beside one of the ministry’s meeting spots. The children, some barefoot, had just cleared out after a spirited round of soccer and my team and I stooped to pick through the gravel and dirt.

We found shards of glass, used condoms, McDonald’s wrappers, and plastic particles of every shape and size even at three inches down…The stench of it all radiated from the sick soil. It could have roused the dead.

Maybe it did.

My eyes sharpened and I saw things as they were. I was outraged. Concerned. Disgusted.

The McDonald’s wrapper really got me because I felt responsible for it being there. There I was, ironically, a privileged American, serving my South African sisters and brothers by pulling pollution born from American ideals of consumerism and convenience from their soil.

That is when I realized how smart McDonald’s, and the convenience food industry it heads, really is. I could see the golden arches from where I stood, looming over the heap of township. It was literally the only building to code for miles around. Like sin, it promised luxury—heck, it LOOKED luxurious from the shanties—but preyed on the plight of the poor.

Not only were the local folks subject to the laughable nutrition of fast food, but literally living in its trash.

I knew I was guilty by association. Though I was a very young adult at the time, I participated in the system that allowed and glorified such disregard. My face burned and stomach turned with the realization.

I was trying to help clear a path for children to know Jesus, the One through whom the world came into being—through Whom the earth was meant to bear fruit to provide for these children—but, instead of plant-life and beauty and vibrant microorganisms pointing the children to their Maker, McDonald’s wrappers and the sickening stench said “No life here.”

That is when I woke up to waste.

I haven’t been able to unsee it sense.

“There is no away.”

We are charmed, indeed, if we believe that trash disappears after it leaves our doors. It is natural to think that things breakdown and become a part of the earth again—because that is how things are supposed to be and have been forever. But our choices for ease and unchecked consumerism have clogged a system meant for life.

The plain fact of the matter is

  • We are running out of places to put our trash
  • Recycling ultimately downgrades matter into trash 
  • The poor are ALWAYS the ones that bear the burden of society's mistakes

We cannot continue dead in our denial or charmed in our haze. We must wake up to waste. 

Because there is hope and a world to love.