Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Throwin' it Away

After rescuing me from doubleflatland, M. Wrench and I were discussing the startling amount of garbage that Americans can produce. Cyclists have oddly close experience with it, strangely enough, since riding along the right side of the road at twenty miles an hour gives us a closeup view of the amazing volume of garbage that accumulates in the ditches and gutters. Seriously, it's like one of those PSA "protect your environment" videos we saw in elementary school, and all of this after considering how often litter patrols go by.

Well, my neighbors produce quite a lot of garbage, too. It seems like about a bag a day, perhaps two some days. The family that lives across the way I try hard not to stereotype. From the little I've interacted with them, they seem like nice enough people. She's got two young children: one is an infant and one perhaps three or four. Slender, blonde, and looks like she's seventeen going on thirty-five. I'd really be hard pressed to actually guess her age. He moved in recently, and works in construction, from the safety-orange t-shirts, with retro-reflective bars, he often wears. On two occasions the post has misdelivered something important addressed to her to me instead, from the Department of Employment and the Department of Health and Social Services. I returned them to the Post Office as misdelivered rather than deal with the two-sided embarassment of "um, hey lady, here is your welfare check..."

(thanks to the City of Pittsburgh's website for this image. Since it's meant as a public service, I'm sure they won't mind the traffic.)

In any case, I have some knowledge of the amount of garbage my neighbors produce because they're in the habit of placing the full garbage bag outside their front door, immediately adjacent to my own, until they take it to the dumpsters. For a while, this would sometimes take a day or two, and sometimes two or three bags would accumulate. Now, really, this doesn't matter, and the last thing I wanted to do was say anything about it, so I decided to do the both somewhat passive-agressive and neigborly thing and throw the stuff away for them. After all, the dumpster-compactor is right on the way out of the complex, and if it's not too heavy I can just sling the bag inside, paperboy-style, without even slowing down, as I ride to work.

After a couple of weeks of this, the bags never accumulated any more, and though they still do appear regularly they are taken away pretty quickly.

This got me to wondering, though:

What the heck are these people throwing away? This is a pretty impressive volume of trash. My two-person apartment creates a garbage bag every week, perhaps, and while I grant that this couple has children, infants don't consume too many, um, consumables, and Yours Truly has to put away 4,000 to 6,000 calories a day, so I'm still a little confused. I'm not going to be a total creep and start opening the bags up, but I do notice a number of things that make me want to, you know, help.

Mister Anderson.

For one thing, they seem to throw away everything. Corrugated boxes, milk jugs, and other recycleables are often clearly visible through the plastic trash bags. Amusingly, they buy Organic juice reasonably frequently. Let it be known that our apartment complex has recycling on-site. Beyond that, though, I still wonder what is producing this volume of junk. Without studying it too closely, I'd wager a guess that it includes lots of cheap consumer products with extensive packaging, ready-to-eat prepackaged commercial food containers, and the broken remnants of these cheap consumer products when they stop working.

I considered what my own garbage can typically contained. While I cook and bake much of my own food, (even when it's only oatmeal or pasta), there are still those thin plastic baggies to get rid of. I re-use plastic bread bags for when I bake my own bread, and they're good for another couple of uses. Most food waste goes either in the garbage disposal or gets, um composted.

It's "um" because my version of compost is throwing it out my window, almost literally: there is a slight downsloping hill to a creek / wetlands area just out of my window, and I think it's probably better to let the critters take care of that cucumber that went bad before I could use it, than to send it to the dump.

Of course, I do make use of the onsite recycling for things like juice jugs, glass jars, and that kind of thing. I don't use a ton of consumer products, and most things like soap and shampoo come in recyclable packaging themselves, but I do throw away a decent handful of caps and lids. Cycling goods usually also have cardboard packaging, leaving only the zip-ties for the garbage. I threw away some junked out old cable housing and some expended stubs of brake pads recently.

What else?

Um, shoot. Coffee grounds go down the garbage disposal, too, but tea filterbags hit the trashbin. Napkins, since I've decided that using a paper napkin that would've been thrown away anyway and is made of mostly recycled paper besides beats a cloth on that I'd have to then recycle.

Still, really, this isn't very much. A guy at work that we've nicknamed Tom Boonen told me: "I like workin' with you because you remind me of Portland. You have a big vocabulary, and you recycle." Thanks, Tom, who grew up in Federal Way, WA, but went to college in Portland.

So, without being too nosy: what did YOU throw away last week? Where does all of this garbage come from?


  • At 9:10 PM , Blogger STOKED I AM said...

    OK, it's garbage night, so I checked. One plastic grocery bag of trash for two people for one week. Contents? Plastic. :( Packaging for meat, tofu, cheese, coffee, dry cat food. Yarn bits. Dental floss. Bottle caps and lids. Bags from inside cereal boxes.

  • At 11:41 PM , Blogger Argentius said...

    That sounds about like mine.

    I forgot to mention before, some Clif bar wrappers. There's no real way around that one. Also, a bike tube. I can patch most tubes, but this one ripped at the valve stem, so there was no saving it. I THINK you can actually recycle these things somewhere, and maybe I'm a lazy sonofagun for not sorting out how to do it. Heck, it's butyl rubber. But my onsite won't take it...

  • At 9:59 AM , Blogger Thad said...

    We produce one to one-and-a-half bags a week for a family of four, but all veggie food waste/coffee goes in the yard waste bin and we have quite a bit of recycling. As with the previous post, it's mostly plastic food wrapping and random little bits of stuff.

  • At 12:15 PM , Blogger Miriam. said...

    Mine's mostly food waste as I dont have a place to compost and the curbside doesnt take food (only yard) waste. 1 plastic garbage bag, 1 week, 2 people. My garbage and recycling cans are about the same size and I empty the recycling about 2x more than the garbage.

    I recycle/reuse most of my plastic bags and I tend to forgo them when packing food, and opt for the plastic containers. Tubes are SUPER handy. I've covered my metal bike racks with them so my bikes wont be metal on metal. They are handy for making 'rubber bands' to wrap up your tires and other tubes with. I also used a mtn bike one as a resistance band.

    PS you better not be throwing peels out the window for the animals to eat...they will not get eaten. And peels take a long time to decompose in the open.


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