Sunday, May 8, 2011

Trash Talk

I am guessing I spend more time than the ordinary person contemplating trash. As a psychologist, I am depressingly aware of what this preoccupation may reveal about me but, nevertheless, for years my mind has been consumed with "garbage in, garbage out."

I haven't always had primarily trashy thoughts. In fact, for many decades I gave waste nary a thought. I trace the etiology of my preoccupation with post-consumption to the day we moved into a house. A house we actually owned. And had to maintain. A house whose occupants seem to generate lots and lots of waste. And with no landlord or management company to make the garbage magically disappear.

As I unpacked during our move in August several years ago, I looked all over the house and yard for a place to put our trash. Surely, our lovely historic house, which came with central air conditioning, vintage gas stove and Japanese bath, had trash cans.  We had previously lived in apartments, condominiums and rented houses, and trash cans had just always been there.  Where did one get a trash can? How did one fit a trash can in the car? And, most perplexing, when the time comes, how does one throw away a trash can? While I have since figured out the first two conundrums, I am still uncertain of the third.

In our city, we are allowed to have up to seven trash cans. I have no idea how the city's Department of Public Works, Trash and Waste Division came up with this calculus of receptacles-per-residential structure, but I did not recall seeing any neighbors with seven cans of refuse adorning their home on trash day. I went to our local hardware store, which had in stock four cans with handles and wheels, so I purchased four cans with handles and wheels. I learned that our subcntracted trash service, Athen's Trash--implying that our garbage is destined to be a future archeologist's dream--will take whatever trash is "in" the can.

And since we are paying a private company to remove our city's waster, I make sure our cans are filled to the brim every Monday. If a can is a little low Sunday evening, I will blow through a box of cereal just to be able to throw away something bulky to fill the precious space. I have been tempted to hoard those styrofoam packing peanuts just to have something to fill the cans with when they are not up to capacity.

But more often, we have too much garbage, and I have to surreptitiously throw away items on the sly, such as at gas station trash cans or at public parks. We have had our four cans so completely filled that even the addition of a gum wrapper would make them topple Jenga-style. The most dramatic example of this is when we attempted to trash our ping-pong table. We took off the legs and rolled the green table top into our trash area in our driveway. We noticed good old Athens didn't take the hulking mass of plywood for several weeks. I suspected they were being sticklers for the "in" the trash can bylaw, so I took a saw and hacked the table into trash-repository-size pieces. Problem solved.

I am a more than a little wary of the sanitation-collection process, due to earlier negative experiences. Believe it or not, I have actually received citations from Sanitation Departments in two different states (actually, one was a Commonwealth,  not a state). I had not been aware that one could commit illegalities involving garbage, aside from perhaps littering on the highway. One such ticket was for throwing a bag of trash in a private dumpster in Boston. The only way I can imagine that they were able to identify it was my trash was by going through the Hefty bag's contents to identify the owner. I felt sort of privileged that a fledgling garbologist took such an interest in my refuse. I was fined $25. Another $25 fine was levied when we moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn, and deigned to put recyclable-worthy trash into a non-recyclable trash can.

Who knew throwing away stuff was so damned complicated?

Prior to moving into our home, I had never had cause to purchase a trash receptacle of any kind. Well, this is not completely true. I, of course, have gone through perhaps dozens of those smaller kitchen trash cans. In fact, the purchase of our current kitchen garbage can was particularly humiliating. I was at The Container Store, with precise kitchen measurements in hand, attempting to gauge how many gallons of trash our can should be able to hold. I noticed that the store seemed to sell garbage bags that were not the usual 13-gallon Hefty size that I typically buy in bulk, on sale, at Target. I asked the perky sales person which trash can would work with the regular trash bags to be bought at stores other than The Container Store. The clerk fired a series of questions at me regarding my thoughts and feelings about garbage can "liners." I noticed that the priciest of the trash cans all had a steel insert that "lined" the can and seemed quite unnecessary to the process of temporarily storing waste. I can spot a sales pitch a mile away, and did not want to get suckered into a $200 trash can, so I quickly informed her we have no need for "liners." This stopped the sales clerk in her tracks as she apparently struggled to pleasantly interact with such a barbarian who did not suitably "line" her trash can. It wasn't until later that I realized that "liner" was TheContainerStoreSpeak for "trash bag," and I had described to her the practice of maintaining waste in our kitchen in a bagless recepetacle. I can only imagine how that story went over at the subsequent staff meeting. Good thing I usually order anonymously online anyway.


  1. My dad, back in the days before plastic anything, would take a flat newspaper and line our garbage cans with it. It never failed to amaze me that he could make something flat fit something round, and I would stand and stare at the liners in awe.

    Come to think of it, I guess that was the same principle Christopher Columbus used.

    ~cath xo

  2. Hi, Cath--How MacGyver-esque of your dad! Love the idea of origami trash bags! I will try to channel him next time I go to the Container Store. But I have to say that wet newspapers sort of gross me out... Take care! K:)

  3. How interesting. Here in Oz the trash can is called a rubbish bin and the local council provides it. Do you have local councils even? We pay rates so that they come and collect the 'trash' every week. We also have recycling trash cans, they're collected once a fortnight.
    The trash cans are called 'wheelie bins', they're quite big, come up to your waist I guess, and plastic. On wheels, you wheel them to the curb (is that the same as kerb?) on bin night. A truck comes around the next day and has mechanical arms that pick up and empty the bin.
    You were talking about outside trash cans, weren't you?
    Do you have separate collections for stuff that can be recycled? I'd assumed it was jsut standard all over the western world. . .
    josie x

  4. It is true, there is much to do about trash and how much of it. I once had the garbage guys refuse to take my garbage because it had rained and the can had some water in it. I do not know how the lid got off, ( I suppose there are sneaky trash lid remover galore) and the trash can was too heavey.... Then recently I have noticed something even more interesting.... SOMEONE has been putting their trash with my trash of pick up day. At first it was just a bag, then last week it was a whole container with a weeks worth of trash in it! So I smiled and said "Thank you trash world for my new container (which has no lid so I better be careful when it rains)! The world of trash is quite perplexing indeed!

  5. Hello, Magikbroom71! Thank you for visiting my blog and I apologize for the delay in responding. I love that you apparently have a neighbor who is a "giver" and not a "taker." lol. Everyone knows the best way to get rid of extra trash is to stash it ib a dumpster behind a restaurant... not in a neighbor's can. What a faux pas! :) Take care! Karen