Tag Archives: recycling

The trash truck symphony

In Oregon, and especially in Portland, recycling is all but mandatory. It is the path of least resistance. If I refused to recycle:

  • My tiny trash-trash bin would overflow.
  • I would surrender a significant annual sum in deposits. I hate waste, and especially the waste of money.
  • A lynch mob might eventually form.

I don’t mind. I consider it a good idea. In Boise, by contrast, someone who didn’t pour the used oil from his pickup truck on the weeds was something of an eco-freak. Here, by not being fascist about it, I’m questionable. I don’t mind that either. Gods forbid I too often agree with a majority, anywhere.

Since I am the only one in the house who much cares and is impact, I’m the one who gets to dig in house trash bins to get recyclables out of the trash can, trash out of the recycle bin, and glass out of both. When we have guests, it’s basically an exercise in shut-the-hell-up-and-be-a-good-host-and-just-fish-the-stuff-out. In fairness, it’s not realistic for those not living here to become conversant with the rules. If you’re at my house, and I look like James Herriot turned on his side, keep calm and, yes, you probably caused this, but don’t worry about it.

Every week, they come for the trash-trash. That’s one truck. Every other week they also come for the yard waste bin, the glass bin (a small tote-sized red thing), and the recycling bin (the largest of the tree, casting an appealing quantity of shade on hot days and offering tiny-house potential for those not too fussy). Today is every other Friday. Today is trash truck symphony day, when there nearly always seems to be a diesel monstrosity extending its tentacles to gather up a plastic bin. Each bin requires a separate truck, a separate diesel engine, and a separate godawful racket.

It creates conflict. My house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, with a sidewalk divided by my driveway. I just went out and measured, and only 25′ of the sidewalk fronts my property. Its center point is smack where we pull into our driveway. During my very first week, I received a snotty note from the postal worker, whining that I should keep bins 12′ away from mail boxes. This is completely unrealistic, but so typical of why average people come to hate government: common sense and reality be damned, these are the precious rules, and we will take any opportunity to rub them in your face just to have our moment of authority. His more sensible approach was to realize that his driving path is not the only factor in this equation, that it happens only once per week, and to just accept that he might have to…shift into reverse and back up a couple of feet.

I decided not to cooperate. I’m still not cooperating. The mailman hates me and engages in petty acts of spite whenever he thinks he can get away with it. I consider getting a box at a non-USPS mail station. I become a little less connected every day, every time someone does a petty thing to me just because he or she can, when I didn’t deserve it. (If I have it coming, I’ll take my medicine.) Credit to the trash truck guys: at least, at the very least, they do not weep openly about the best possible compromise space I have located for the bins. They seem to understand that their work is to pick up the trash without bitching, and that there is no perfect solution in this physical space. Hurrah. For my part, I place the cans as far out as I can without calling the Wrath of USPS, hoping to be helpful. Since they rarely spill any trash, I’m supposing they appreciate it. That or they could just be true professionals, which does happen.

The good news is that Portland trash trucks spill less garbage than Boise trash trucks. I shocked one Boise supervisor by asking: “Can you tell me what is the permitted quota of garbage dumped in the street by your drivers, on a per-house basis?” Of course, once these trash truck workers pick up the bins, they are happy to deposit them right in the middle of the driveway. I admit it: once, after a truly bad day in which I just wanted to get home without limiting future options, seeing that Nevada-sized recycle bin smack athwart my path, I lost it. I smacked down on the gas, rammed it (sending it bouncing almost all the way up the driveway to the garage door), then eased off the accelerator before I did something less recoverable. It was satisfying, watching that thing fly up the driveway. Sometimes you vent in the only way you can get by with venting.

But in the meantime, today is a relatively decent day, our postal worker could not think of any small spites he could get by with, I am home and thus got the emptied recycle bin before it blocked anyone’s path, and I may listen to the spasmodic, bellowing industrial rhapsody of the trash truck symphony.

How to encourage recycling

I’ve only been in Oregon five days, and I see how they do it. Simply put, they give you no other viable choice but to recycle/donate.

This is new to me. In Idaho, the only thing they recycle is spent shell casing brass. They put more gunpowder and bullets or pellets into it, then shoot it again.

It begins with a very small trash trash bin, an enormous recycling bin, and a big yard waste bin. If you’ve got a lot to get rid of, the trash trash bin will not get rid of it all because you barely have room for minimalist household trash. Thus, one must begrudge anything tossed in the trash trash. We’ve already designated a separate, unlined can just for waste paper, so we can keep it out of the trash. If we do not do this, we will not have room for true trash.

Oregon also has a 5-cent deposit on bottles, cans and plastic. If anyone thinks that won’t add up, fine, but I want my damn money. I’m going to rig up a handheld carrier with lath dividers just to make it easier to take them in, even though I have tons of room in my recycle bin, because if I’m going to go through all this, it’s time to pay me. I pick up loose pennies in supermarket parking lots. I damn sure will pick up nickels, and every one of these cans now resembles a nickel to me, forty to a $2 roll.

Landfill dumping seems to exist…sort of, expensively, somewhere difficult to get to. However, if you list an item for free on Portland Craigslist, unless it’s absolutely worthless, expect to be bombarded with replies. I gave away a remarkably crappy miniature folding couch that we could have used to extract confessions from people just by making them sleep on it. Twelve replies, half an hour, gone two hours after posting. We’re pruning down our excess crap, and St. Vincent de Paul is about to become a real asset, because charities are the only way to get rid of bulk stuff. Before I left Boise, I removed the hard drives from two old dead computers, hit them with a hammer until I knew I’d broken the platter and the electronics, and chucked them in the bin. In Oregon, that is punishable by a fine, but there are a number of places to recycle old computers. I tossed a dying mini-fridge into my bin in Boise. Portland? Wouldn’t come close to fitting. I’d have to call and find out where you recycle dying refrigerators, and I’ll bet there’s an option.

All these boxes? All the packing paper? Craigslist. Someone’s always moving. Free boxes? Yes, please. Free packing paper? Oh, they’ll come get it. Just as well, because the boxes and paper would overwhelm even our cavernous recycle bin.

I’m not opposed to any of this, though neither am I an ecomaniac. Just, I’d always wondered how they dealt with the large numbers of people who can’t be bothered to deal with recycling. In Boise and Kennewick, there was no impetus. In Portland, they make it so it’s the only way to avoid being buried in unwanted crap.

A part of me admires the strategy’s ruthlessness.