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Everything Falls Apart

Kyle Wiens on the thrill of the fix

When I was in high school, our physics teacher, Mr. Andresen, attempted to teach a bunch of us about the laws of thermodynamics—fundamental principles of physics, describing the behavior of the entire universe. I’m oversimplifying, but they are: Energy can be neither created nor destroyed; entropy, inevitably, breaks down all things; and the heat death of the universe awaits us all. Conceptually, it was a lot for a classroom of fidgety sophomores to grasp. Mr. Andresen simplified it even further for us: “You can’t win. You can’t break even. And you can’t even get out of the game.”

Entropy is a constant in the universe. Nothing can resist its relentless assault. By infinitesimal degrees, entropy chips, wears, and erodes our flimsy human efforts. Wheels rust and fall off. Screens flicker and die. Our bodies grow feeble and break down. Even the tallest mountains eventually crumble to dust. And thus goes the universe. Eventually, all things fall apart. Every day, every hour, every second, every thing is succumbing to entropy. And there’s nothing we can do about it. That, I think, was Mr. Andresen’s point.

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The Professionals

The Brazilian government has built an army of reuse masters, repair geniuses, and recycling experts, and it's paying off.

Much has been made of Brazil’s poorly orchestrated World Cup preparations. Airports went unfinished, stadiums were badly conceived, and power shortages loomed. But while the mind-boggling corruption and inefficiency at the heart of these problems have garnered most of the attention, there has been at least one area of civic life in which the country was prepared to thrive: recycling.

By the time the global sports event ends on July 13, experts estimate that World Cup spectators will generate a staggering 320 tons of trash. Enter the catadores—waste pickers who earn a living by collecting recyclables from the nation’s trash heap, men and women who will dig through the garbage and pick out each aluminum can, plastic bottle, and glass container. And while their jobs may seem humble, their sweat and solidarity are helping to transform Brazil into a true world power in recycling.

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