"Litter" cans new to Xavier
The garbage cans around campus all have the word "litter" on them. As in, "this is where litter goes." The garbage
can, however, is literally the only place that litter absolutely
cannot go – it would stop being litter. Every single piece of
"litter" to ever exist has only been known to do so under
one very specific condition: that it gets put anywhere except
a garbage can. Upon deeper consideration, this misnomer
is quite a profound error. Just think; whoever made this label
could have written the word "litter" on literally anything else
in the entire universe, anything at all other than a garbage can, and he/she would have written it somewhere that litter could potentially go. Instead, they labeled the one receptacle that it can't go, ever. Can anything be said of this?
There's an interesting element of Catholic philosophy called
transubstantiation. It explains how a pretty normal cracker
gets transformed into the body of Christ without changing in
appearance, or smell, or anything whatsoever. It's as profound as turning a frog into a prince, and as simple as a priest's wave of the hand. It also seems to explain what happens to our McDonalds bags at the moment we put them
in a garbage can, rather than tossing them out the window. We're like priests, really, when it comes to waste disposal. When it breaks the plane of the receptacle, our waste stops being litter and instead becomes garbage. It does this without changing physically at all. Even more incredibly, that
no physical change takes place stands to be true even at the
molecular level. Perhaps whoever decided to label these garbage cans with the word "litter" has never indulged in wafers of the celestial variety. Some of us, not I, ran substantiate bread into divine flesh. More of us however, and this includes me, transubstantiate litter into garbage. It's empowering. We dispose of waste correctly when we perform this trick, or so it seems, no matter how much of it
there was. Not anymore, however, if this new label has anything to say about it. The unmistakable irony of the label requires that we question what exactly makes garbage different from litter. This proves to be an interesting and somewhat troubling question. Is it simply because an object has been placed in a receptacle that it is called "garbage" instead of "litter?" This difference, practically speaking, is surprisingly shallow. We see this when we consider that by calling something "garbage" as opposed to "litter" we are really only referring to where the thing ends up, and how. Garbage, in other words, will end up being carried off to join a large pile of other garbage, while litter on the other hand, ends up absolutely anywhere – you name it – as long as it's not a garbage can. Garbage, like litter, still just ends up sitting there, wherever "there" might be. At least I'm pretty sure this will remain true until we have figured out a way to
delete plastic products from the world. One telling difference
is that garbage usually ends up sitting "there," and litter tends
to sit somewhere closer to "here." Practically speaking,
there's little more difference between the two terms than that. The difference is more geographical, and in that
sense most likely grounded in aesthetic appeal. For example,
consider this hypothetical situation: If we were to travel
to the nearest garbage dump, and just before walking through the gate we were to drop a gum wrapper on the ground, which label – garbage or litter – is now appropriate for that gum wrapper? Mind you, this would me and that it has ended up no more than fifty yards or so from an enormous pile of waste that most of us would call "garbage"
– and that absolutely nobody would call "litter." The gum
wrapper would be uncharacteristically close to the designated spot that we, as a society, have deemed appropriate for garbage. Yet, it's not garbage; it's litter.
Why? Because we didn't put it in a garbage can. On Xavier's
campus, though, the winds have shifted with the rebranding of trashcans as "litter cans." Our waste now remains,
despite our best attempts at transubstantiation, litter
– and there's nothing we can do about it. We can't pretend
there's a difference between the terms anymore. The label
is more than just ironic, it's semantically binding! Words are, in these types of cases, incredibly unforgiving.
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