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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Garbage in....garbage out

By Dick Hirsch
Years ago, no proper person would dream of introducing the topic of garbage at a dinner party. That was among the subjects that were off limits. I won’t mention any of the others that were in that category, because some of them are still taboo.
Things have changed over the years, and none more than garbage. The change has been evolving over the years. Some people can remember when the trucks picked the stuff up and took it to one of two places, either the dump or the incinerator.
There are no more dumps or incinerators. The dump has transitioned into a landfill and the incinerator has been retired in most communities because of its output of noxious fumes.
The real experts don’t use garbage as an umbrella term. Garbage, the specific term, is usually reserved for the sloppiest stuff, the meanest, ugliest, gooiest, foulest detritus. We all are familiar with it, participate in creating it, yet nobody is eager to deal with it. The other materials that fit under the general heading of garbage but are regarded as more benign and less objectionable are referred to as trash, rubbish, litter, debris or some similar term.
Now that we’ve gotten the semantics of garbology out of the way, it’s important to consider how the topic emerged as an item that now is being so often discussed. It is because of the containers being promulgated as the method of choice with which to transport garbage from the yard to the curbside. It is not really a method, it is more like a vehicle, a burly, heavyweight plastic two-wheeled wagon with a hinged cover that is being adopted by many communities as a sanitary way of storage until pickup. They call it a “tote,” but not many people would choose to tote it because of its weight and bulk.
The totes are a major topic in my community, where they have recently been distributed to each home. The favored size is 95 gallons, although it is possible to trade in that standard size for a smaller one, about 65 gallons. The arrival of the totes will bring uniformity and regimentation to garbage day on every block. Each home will have an identical tote at curbside, rather than a ragtag mix of containers of various shapes and vintages. The other day I drove down a street on the west side and passed block after block of uniform garbage containers. Isn’t it comforting to know that household waste is being dealt with in such a manner?
Of course the distribution of the totes requires an immediate assessment of the existing containers. My largest container is currently 35 gallons and that has usually been sufficient, but how could I reject a 95 gallon behemoth? Have the authorities considered whether possession of such capacity will encourage users to generate even more garbage?
In my case, I realize I will have to abandon some of the containers that have been with me for many years. I have some experience in that area, and it has been revealing.
One of the most daunting objects to rid yourself of is an old garbage can. I know that sounds strange, but it is true. I still have some aging steel cans that I either purchased or inherited years ago, containers used exclusively for yard waste. These are specimens that are most notable for their dents and their rust, but they have utilitarian value.
I once tried to get rid of a can like that. I put it out empty on collection day, laying on its side. They didn’t take it. The following week I wrote a note on a yellow piece of paper in red ink and taped it to the rim of the can. The note said ”PLEASE TAKE.” Of course the can was empty, but upright, with the note visible. That time, they ignored both the note and the can. During the interval between collections, I jumped up and down on that can, at every opportunity, attempting to flatten it beyond recognition.
I only fell down twice during the exhausting process, but I did succeed in altering its appearance so it looked like a despicable piece of rusty metal; in other words, it looked like trash, rubbish, litter or debris. Out it went on the designated morning. Back it came that afternoon, rejected once again. I eventually had to recruit an undercover agent to rid myself of that can. The garbologists are even fussier and more selective these days.



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