Trash Castle

Trash Talk
Trash Talk
Trash Castle

The cast-off and decaying artifacts of Flora Vista domesticity set the stage for my childhood imaginings. In those places, the trash of my neighbors was not trash, but the source of immense creativity. Despite the intense social negativity that surrounds illegal dumping, I still have a profound sense of nostalgia for trash scattered behind my childhood home. Those artifacts remain in the backyard of my mind even as I do not remain in the physical or emotional state of my childhood. Those trashy aspects of my childhood now offer a deeply personal and local perspective of wasting and dumping within the greater global waste management strategy.

Episode Credits

  • 19:13 Liboiron, Max. 2018.Waste Colonialism . Discard Studies. (October 22, 2019).
  • 20:47 Bakan, Joel. 2004. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. New York, NY: FreePress.

The following sounds/music were sourced from FreeSound under the Creatvie Commons Attribution License from the following users:

  • 2:07- eardeer -Mermaid Tune
  • 6:58; 35:55 – Setuniman – Musicbox Loop
  • 8:30 – ChristiKuhn – at the farm
  • ; 28:55- stevysound – 130BPM Hand Claps
  • 9:00 – daveincamas -Treehouse in Storm
  • 11:40 – genghis attenborough – Beddington Landfill
  • 12:39 – dominictreis – Sneaky and Playful Music
  • 16:57; 19:50– nnus –Sad Bass ¾ time
  • 19:53 – Katarina Rose – Yamaha Flute Trill
  • 20:30 – Setuniman – Inner World Dissonant
  • 23:46 – creek23 – cha-ching
  • 24:15- acclivity – Supermarket Checkout (altered with reverb and echo)
  • 27:11 – A clip from The Vote– a PSA created by the Information and Education Department of Defense in 1963 and housed by the National Archives @111-afif-128
  • 27:22- Setuniman – Dreamy/Cinematic Music Box
  • 34:20 – Drotzruhn – Byssan Lull Swedish lullaby (altered with echo in repeat)


Laura B. Lane  0:01 

Public lands, often unspoken and ill-ordained dumping grounds. At least, this was certainly true behind my childhood home. The public lands of flora Vista, New Mexico, a VISTA of blue sky, sparse clouds, juniper trees and trash, broken tables, ripped upholstered chairs, spring bed frames, junked appliance fridges, and clothes washers, disposable wrappers and bottles, bags of clothes, rusted trucks, and rubber tires. These are among the ornaments of my childhood. Playing in trash, taught me a multitude of things.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  0:57 

This story is about those lessons, lessons of unlearning waste. stacks of hundreds of tires kind of stacked up on top of each other, maybe 15 or 20 tires, high tires that have been discarded on the west side of Albuquerque where I grew up. I remember me and my brother, climbing up on these stacks of tires and slowly climbing down inside of this tube, seeing all these spider webs and things inside the tires and kind of feeling like you know, this is this is a pretty dangerous thing to be doing.

Laura B. Lane  1:40 

But exciting at the same time.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  1:42 

Yeah, exactly.

Laura B. Lane  1:43 

We used to play on tires with our goats. Our goats would range in this pasture that was like next to our house, it was actually our neighbor’s pasture. And it was always completely filled with weeds. We’d lay out the tires and the goats would jump on them with us and we play lava. We’d have to stay on the tires and avoid contacting the ground. This episode is about reaching for our childlike imaginations and bringing the object and technology of the trashcan into question.

Do you remember what the trash can looked like when you were a kid? Did it change?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  2:53 

Yeah, I mean, I don’t, I can’t say that I really remember what our trash can in our house looked like. But I do remember when the city changed, you know, we always put our bags of trash out on the curb. And the garbage person would come and pick up our bags and throw them in the back of the garbage truck. It has this big mechanism that would open up and crush the bags, kind of into the storage. Probably sometime around when I was in early middle school, the city of Albuquerque moved to garbage containers that we kind of see now. And automated trucks that came and picked up the garbage from the container.

Laura B. Lane  3:45 

Like with a lever?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  3:46 

With a lever, yeah. One of the things with the bags is you would always see bags getting torn. And just trash getting left on the gutters and on the street. With the containers all the trash would just disappear.

Laura B. Lane  4:03 

Yeah, it would just disappear. Most of us have memories of waste. Wasting is a powerful sensorial thing. Perhaps it feels foreign because the processes that waste management mean to hide, take the decay, death, and decomposition away from our eyes, noses, and fingers. Processes that perhaps fascinated us as children became taboo in adulthood. Here for just a bit, find your way back to that inner child like curiosity.

Take a moment, close your eyes. Try to remember or imagine, the first time you confronted the idea of waste. The first time you confronted a trash can.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  5:32 

So why the trash can?

Laura B. Lane  5:33 

The trash can is the location through which modern homes are expected to interact with waste management systems. Really, can you imagine a modern home without a trash can? Homes exist, communities exist without a conventional trash can, but they’re not the popular or normative imaginings of the home. While small in comparison to the whole system, our interaction with the trash can, or the recycle bin for that matter; our belief in their ability to carry our waste away, validates the system of wasting and will simply obscuring the trash can is not enough, it is the first step to disentangling our complicity in a system of wasting, that makes us responsible for an impossible task of managing waste. If we can rewrite the inevitability of the trashcan, how does our home change? What meaning can we find then, in our consumption?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  6:41 

I really like what you talked about in terms of this tacit assumption that we have that trash can, just exists in our home without any thought about it, and challenging the reimagining of, you know, what, what could it look like without that trash can and how does that change the whole system of waste?

Laura B. Lane  7:09 

The trash can, is part of a root rot at the most subconscious part of our most formative years as a child. This is a story about my inner child’s journey with trash.

I grew up in the middle of the San Juan Basin, the second largest natural gas reservoir in the US. A place where Flora Vista, our town, if you could call it that, laid west of Aztec where I went to high school, middle school and elementary school and east of Farmington and the four-corners where New Mexico meets Colorado, Utah and Arizona. My family live in a brick and mortar house with a BLM public lands less than a mile walk up the road. I would often walk that mile and more, accompanied by four legged friends, not all of whom bark. Growing up, I made acquaintance with many of furry and feathered creature as chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, goats, horses, turkeys, accompanied the half-acre plot that was the backyard. This contributed significantly to the cycle of consumption and refuse in our home. Our backyard was a mixture of mowed yellow grass, gardens, coops and trees. One such tree stretched probably 20 feet up with an impressive girth that contained our glorious albeit shabby treehouse, built from my father’s carpentry scraps. Each Fall we would rake the leaves and undertake the painstaking task of removing pine needles from between the large river stones. We also had a second hand swing set, which stood over a sandbox or more aptly the unsanctioned cat litter box. Next to our swing set stood our burn barrel. In that barrel, my family burnt paper, cardboard and yard waste while we roasted marshmallows. Off the porch outside the kitchen, a long rope hung down which threaded empty milk jugs and juice bottles. We would sort the recyclables ones and twos and when the containers were full and the rope was crammed, we drove to the recycling facilities in Aztec or Farmington to hand sort our recyclable haul. With scraps of wood, metal, nuts, and bolts, we would save whatever materials we could in the garage and load the irredeemable refuse leaves, needles, grass clippings, and the abundant animal excrement into the chicken pen for composting, the barrel for burning, or the trailer for hauling.

My family did not use municipal waste services for most of my childhood. Even though we had a standard kitchen trash can, you know, like the white and plastic kind that fit a standard 13 gallon trash bag. Very little of our waste went into that trash can. Instead of filling the standard 30 gallon municipal barrel and placing it on the curb for pickup each week, my family put the little waste that we did not repurpose or burn into a rectangular wood trailer. When the trailer filled up, I would often accompany my dad in the front seat of our beige Toyota truck for the drive to the San Juan county landfill.

At the entrance before we drive on to the scale, my dad would hand over the utility bill as proof of residence and the nice person inside would hand me a dum dum, a small spherical lollipop candy in tow, my dad and I would drive into the canyon of waste. Even recalling those memories, I feel the eerie nature of the landfill where literally mountains of trash climbed up all around. There in the graveyard of consumer society, we would dump our trailer of mostly manure, and some bulging trash bags before driving back to the house. Lighter with a load of waste behind us. The smell of manure left behind with all this stale, plastic and dying decaying things. I’m not alone in my experience of waste. Yet it is not perhaps the clean experience where the waste enters a trash bin only to disappear each Wednesday with a garbage truck. For me, there was no middle person to deliver that disposable wrapper and the stick from my dum dum to the dump. I delivered it myself and left it behind with all the rest of society’s retired domesticity. However, what I’m describing is still a societally acceptable way to dump waste. There are other less acceptable ways to dump and these include the contents of my trash castle.

The cast off and decaying artifacts of Flora Vista domesticity, set the stage for my childhood imaginings. In those places, the trash of my neighbors was not trash, but the source of immense creativity. Despite the intense social negativity that surrounds illegal dumping, I still have a profound sense of nostalgia for the trash scattered behind my childhood home. People’s stories, their material lives, litter my backyard. To this day, beer cans, broken refrigerators, stained couches, and degraded plastic toys freckle the public lands behind my parents house. Building forts with my old bed springs and calves of wrestling trucks. My playground was the junk of others.

Those artifacts remain in the backyard of my mind. As a child, this was a wonderland. As an adult, these memories have taken on another life. The public lands are my childhood playground in memory and theoretical playground now. This playground is the trash castle.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  14:24 

Okay, so you call these memories your trash castle, right? So transport me there. What does that mean? What does that look like to you?

Laura B. Lane  14:35 

Trash litters the memories of my childhood. I mean, the trash castle was this functional space that any adult would want their child to completely avoid. I mean, we built walls from springs. We would make potions in Gatorade bottles with eggs we stole from the chicken coop. And there are these huge tree stumps. I can’t even explain the size of these tree stumps; they had a wider circumference than probably three adult arm spans. And these were all just like laying around. One of my favorite things as a kid was just going to the public lands and crawling around and exploring these old refrigerators and bed springs. And like these decaying couches, and Gosh, I mean, we had the best, the best games.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  15:27 

So these seem like really fond memories for you. What is it that makes this less acceptable?

Laura B. Lane  15:34 

We’re not supposed to see these byproducts of waste, like, according to society, waste is is something that belongs unseen. And I think that the trash castle explains this space that I have described in my thesis work as the edge of externalization, or the edge beyond which things can’t get thrown away. What a lot of people don’t understand is that the trash can, is a privilege. The service of just sending, the things that we no longer want to deal with away is something we have to pay for. And the proximity that we live to the space where those things are, quote-unquote, buried in a landfill or burned in an incinerator, or for some people living in countries of the global south, you don’t really have a choice, the freighter just shows up one day and unloads all of this byproduct from society on you. And it is interesting, I mean, I have this weird relationship with waste. I have these extremely fond memories of playing in this trash. But just as much as that trash was a space for me to be creative and imaginative. It was also a sign of the ways in which our social relationship to material and consumption is really broken.

Why do we buy so much? To unpack the answer would take us, well, beyond the scope of this episode, but the contained answer is brain cocktails of serotonin and dopamine promises of efficiency, convenience and contentment, fears of scarcity, decades of targeted manipulation through consumer science, and the good old friend ou  r trash can to operationalize the artificial sense of need.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  17:50 

The example that comes to mind is the college town trend of students moving from one rental to the next, they unload all their furniture and mattresses on the curb, only to buy new furniture to fill the next space, all out of a perceived sense of need.

Laura B. Lane  18:07 

We live in a market driven by depletion, scarcity, and promises of the greener grass. Though, depletion comes from extraction, scarcity is largely manufactured, and the greener grasses are artificial. This market is a wasting market…

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  18:25 

a market that sees nature as a framework of resources that need to be commodified, diminished, reevaluated, and recommodified. Eventually, when the perceived cost of recirculating and commodifying the material, lifeform, or landscape becomes too great, then it is no longer productive according to the market.

Laura B. Lane  18:47 

This includes human labor and resource.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  18:51 

This is how mass consumption is maintained; through processes of obsolescence and wasting.

Laura B. Lane  19:02 

Obsolescence stands for the transformation of something’s essence from that of usefulness to that of obsoleteness.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  19:13 

In her work on the discard studies, Max Liboiron says that waste and pollution are about power by maintaining structures that designate what is valuable and what is not.

Laura B. Lane  19:25 

Obsolescence gives power to an actor to dictate the value of an object or life form simply based on that things perceived usefulness. This is a form of waste colonialism.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  19:39 

Colonialism stands broadly for the forceful acquisition of power and control, often preceded by acts of erasure and appropriation, like in the case of U.S. First Nations peoples, cultures, lands and histories to this day.

Laura B. Lane  19:59 

Functionally, the trash can is the colonial technology that upholds the principles of wasting.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  20:06 

Once that commodified resource has reached its perceived transition into obsoleteness, then the goal becomes that of disguising and externalizing.

Laura B. Lane  20:16 

A job for the trash can.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  20:24 

Externalization – a conscious defense mechanism by which an institution, like a state or corporation, projects the consequences of an industrial or commercial activity outside the institution’s focal range onto a group and space. This projection continues until externalization ends…

Laura B. Lane  20:47 

the edge of externalization. This is a process that Joel Bakan expertly dissects in the book and documentary The Corporation. Waste tonnage and toxicity is inherent to the system of mass consumption and the trashcan provides a pathway for this tonnage and toxicity out of the home. The trash can is a technology of externalization. Externalization is an important, albeit subtle process, for creating and preserving some ideal of a clean, organized, and secular home.

A doorway… stove… bed… shower… and maybe even the toilet. But we certainly don’t think of the home through the trash can. We do not think of the trashcan as foundational to modern and liberal ideals of home because the function of the trash can is intentionally obscure.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  22:02 

The entrance of the trash can into the home satisfies an apparent need for removing obsolete material from our sight and smell all while remaining relatively inconspicuous.

Laura B. Lane  22:15 

There’s little thought placed on the need for a trash can in our homes. But that is not always true.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  22:21 

The in home trash can was not always an in home appliance. It became one out of demand to throw out the old and make way for the new.

Laura B. Lane  22:33 

The trash can operationalizes the mass consumption market. The trash can plays significantly into why we buy so much. In the years around high school, I distinctly remember a shift in a way that my family produced and disposed of trash. At the time, where there had never been a fancy plastic barrel with a lid and wheels, sat a waste management trash receptacle. Each week, a green truck with a claw mechanism would come empty the trash can into a giant trailer and escort our waste to the San Juan County landfill. This shift in waste practices came after the county and municipal surrounding my home changed the utility requirements and it was no longer free for my family, in Flora Vista, to deliver their own trash to the landfill. As a technology, the trash can became a filter for my family. A veil, through which the discarded artifacts of our daily lives passed unnoticed. With this impersonal relationship to our waste, my family did not have to confront the physical tonnage of waste sitting in our trailer anymore. Shopping became less burdensome, and then there was no need to deal with the waste repercussions. The appearance of this fancy waste management trashcan meant that our home disposal process no longer looked like the dumping that I experienced in the bowels of the landfill. The arrival of this trash can in our driveway carried with it a certification of privilege, which marked my home as a home which could afford the monthly utility bills that accompanied the waste management service.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  24:23 

commodities flow through homes and into landfills, streets and waterways with an ease that is disturbing upon reflection. In our daily commute. How often do we take note and witness the wrappers in the median or the multi acre lots filled with decaying vehicles? Trash is everywhere. And it has only become more common with the years.

Laura B. Lane  24:49 

The trash can and its subsequent utility of waste pickup is a service that not everyone can afford. Rather, the trash can is a privilege that functions to collect an obscure the accumulation of waste from our homes into landfills. These processes of obscuring and moving material waste, necessarily transport waste from communities of privilege into other sacrificial zones and communities. By looking at the technology of the Trash Can we illuminate phenomena that the trash can creates within the home and in our surrounding communities?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  25:28 

Which brings up questions like what is the trash can attempting to obscure and disguise,

Laura B. Lane  25:34 

and who is afforded the privilege of obscuring and externalizing their waste? Who is not?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  25:42 

the trash can is not an implicit right of the human condition. The trash can connected to the waste management services is a privilege that perpetuates the inequalities of society that reward those that can afford to ignore the consequences, while punishing those that must rely upon the improper channels of dealing with their waste. Is the material waste in the trash can in the landfill in the ocean or in the public lands of Flora Vista, the responsibility of the individual? Or is it that of the corporation who generated it. Answers to these questions begin to reveal the lack of agency and control that the individual has when participating in consumer culture.

There is not a way to opt into the consumer culture and out of the related in reinforcing waste culture. Waste Management is a utility. It’s not a free service, but a burden placed by corporations onto the individual consumer and marginalized communities. Waste, like the private property, or the stock market provides a very specific vision of freedom to a very specific and privileged population of people.

Speaker from Voting Propaganda (CC)  27:11 

Freedom of Choice is the essence of voting. The polling place in which only one answer acceptable is no polling place.

Laura B. Lane  27:22 

Playing and trash and my unconventional family disposal practices taught me to question the trash can. It taught me that humans are not inherently wasteful, but disposability is manufactured, and that the trash can was manufactured to capture and disguise the processes of waste and disposability. The trash can plays an undeniable role in the construction of our homes, and the politics of our lives. It is the failure of the trash can to fulfill the promises of externalization that have resulted in the trash castle of my childhood, the dumping of waste into the so called public lands.

I’m interested to hear about what you think of the trash castle.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  28:14 

I think it’s a really interesting way to think about waste in these public spaces and public lands. I also I mean, the story that I shared earlier about playing in the piles of tires there’s something very interesting for a child to see these discarded things and you know, there’s still a lot of value in them for the kids and the young mind. I feel like I hadn’t been trained yet that like those things are waste you know, like I I saw them and thought about what what could I do with this thing? What could it become for me,

Laura B. Lane  28:55 

the tires are kind of like a lego. They’re not really a tire they’re not really a Lego. They’re part of your castle. And each individual piece of trash is put together into this this fortress of imagination and play.

The ill-  ordained dumping ground of the public lands reveal that society has a filter that obscures the waste stream of commodities that flow through our homes and into landfills, streets and waterways. The filter is our trash can when we are active participants in the modern consumer culture, but we do not have the privilege of access to technologies like the trash can. what becomes of our waste?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  29:48 

Well, for a significant number of families, dumping, burning and hoarding seemed like the only reasonable solution

Laura B. Lane  30:01 

My experience of waste is an experience only made possible because of a deep set of inequalities built into the function and operation of the standard in home trash can.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  30:14 

What if that trash can was just that? A can? What if that white 13 gallon plastic bucket, t he stainless steel bin with a foot lever, and the giant curbside dumpster did not connect to a system that projects our waste outside of our daily radius?

Laura B. Lane  30:33 

How then, does our relationship to the trash can change?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  30:39 

Does the trash can in our kitchen, bathroom and on the curb become more visible?

Laura B. Lane  30:45 

Where does the trash go when the bin is?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  30:49 

Does the act of consuming become more methodical?

Laura B. Lane  30:53 

Do we need a trash can in our homes?

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  30:57 

What might we need instead?

Laura B. Lane  31:00 

My fantastical trash castle embodies an outlier of the popular expressions of waste culture.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  31:08 

The buy, unwrap, dispose, and forget part of modern waste culture.

Laura B. Lane  31:15 

Instead, my experience of waste is one in which the material artifacts did not simply decay unseen. The artifacts in my public lands those live on in my imaginations as a child in play, and now in my research about consuming, disposing, wasting, and most importantly, transforming. For me the experience of living in proximity to waste as a child, I feel that I somehow sidestepped a societal veil that conceals the process of wasting, specifically through the trash can.

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  32:01 

The trash can, a portal through which the trash in our homes travels into a greater system of waste management. Waste Management being the process by which the wrappers, food scraps, broken objects, and vacuum dust leave our homes, enter landfills and often board trains and freighters to far away reaches, that we do not have to think about. But this is not the experience of waste for every home.

Laura B. Lane  32:46 

Building forts burying treasures, and imagining new worlds in the illegally dumped trash of the public lands. These are my memories. My trash castle. What’s yours?

Take your inner child for a walk. Seek out homes, truths, and ways of being and relating the challenge the construct of wasting. Tell us then what do you see here, feel and smell. When you look at the trash can.

It knew I was about to record. I would like to acknowledge the  Monacan and Tutelo peoples whose land the land grant university of Virginia Tech sits upon. I would also like to acknowledge the histories of the plantations involved in the campus. That is Virginia Tech. Thank you for joining us today. My name is Laura Lane. I was joined by my partner Abram

Abram Diaz-Strandberg  34:18 

Tweet tweet.

Laura B. Lane  34:20 

I hope you enjoyed this slice of my trash castle. And I hope perhaps you’ll walk away from this episode, questioning the infrastructures of the trashcan and the economies of wasting that frame so much of the world we live in.

I have a lot of people to think in the making of this episode. Thank you firstly to Abram, my partner and this podcast in the long journey that has been this thesis and the yet longer journey that is our home. Thank you for tolerating all my weird habits, like digging holes in the backyard to compost, our food waste. Thank you Saul for your constant patience and guidance, managing the concept generator. That is my brain. Thank you, Phil, for your chicken bucket story. I genuinely enjoyed it. Know that I will come and find you someday and I’m going to turn it into an episode. Thank you Desirée for your generous time providing feedback, reassurance, tea and care through all the challenges that have been my graduate experience. And thank you, Jenn. Thank you for your friendship, inspiration, care, and constant encouragement. You believed and saw the creative in me even when I did not. Thank you all so much for your guidance is my committee. Thank you for our discussions. I have grown because of you because of our energy exchanges. And last, but not least, thank you to my Grandma, who asked all of her friends about their childhood trash cans and provided me with resources, like the waste management Wikipedia page. Specific credits, and links to each artist and study referenced in this episode are listed in the description. All of the sounds and music for this episode. Were sourced through the Creative Commons public domain or recorded on our zoom recorder.

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