Who gives a fuck?

photo: garbage in nature
Approx. reading time: 3 minutes ||

When I was still living in The Netherlands, I considered most dutch ignorant in how they got rid of their garbage. Throwing half a Happy Meal out of a driving car, dumping dirty diapers in the local park, refrigerators in a brook next to a road and the ordinary garbage bag right next to a container. Too lazy to walk ten feet, often without any visible signs of shame. Not caring about their environment. I had a theory about how people had become that way.

My theory was built on two pillars. First there were the stories of the older people, telling me that in earlier years most people used to clean their own porch. That made the streets look clean, one of those things the Dutch became famous for. Being neat was important. Or rather, being thought of as neat. The neighbours were always looking. With the population explosion that followed after the second world war, came also an increase in house building and it became obvious that there was a need for certain services to increase their efforts. More machines got invented to assist and within a few years the men who used to be cleaning the streets with their brooms made out branches, were now using loud air blowers. And it got even better: driving metal with large brushes that swiped streets in no-time. People lost the reason to really care about cleaning up after themselves. As a group, they now had personnel for that. At the same time the horrible idea that everybody has to work – forty hours or more each week – made people lose sight of their immediate surroundings. Never enough time.

The second pillar of course was the inevitable laziness of man.

Then I arrived in Portugal. The first months I lived pretty much in the middle of nowhere and mostly I saw beautiful landscapes, walked on dry rocky soil and slept on grasses teeming with life. And every now and then I saw people and eventually their mess. In odd places. An old refrigerator deep inside the woods. No road in sight, no houses nearby. What the fuck? Who takes the effort of taking a heavy machine several kilometers into the woods to get rid of it? And what are all these old shoes doing in the fields? Empty Monsanto Round-Up bottles in the middle of nowhere or even next to a place where people take in their water supply. I repeat: what the fuck?

Moving from town to town, at some point in time I ended up in the Greater Lisbon Area. Quiet spots next to the Rio Tejo, with the scent of salty water, mud and fish in epic contrast with the stench of combustion engines and shit from the sewer systems in the centre of Lisboa. I learned how the homeless scavenge the garbage containers at night, leaving all the crap next to it or spreading it around while they look for anything they can use, on their way to the next container. They have to be fast, they’re not alone and the garbage trucks are on their way.

I saw people, who are definitely not homeless, taking a note from the windshield and throwing it over their shoulders, I noticed the pavement at the squares after the festivals, empty venues after concerts. I saw teachers throwing stuff on the floor, while walking with their pupils. Confusion was my reaction. Adjacent to the building where I live, we have a little piece of nothing that looks like being out in the campo and… Empty bottles, garbage bags, old shoes. Total and utter confusion. How can people live in such a mess?

With friends I talked about this phenomenon and every time the same answer came up: you should have seen it twenty years ago, things were even worse back then. The old people are terrible and only some of the younger ones are better.

So my theory about personnel and machinery put into place resulting in a lack of interest of the majority does not cut it. At least not in Portugal.

What scares me is the possible answer to my question.

Who Gives A Fuck?