Thursday, May 12, 2005

Garbage School Dropout

I was just reading (in the NY Times) about the 30+ recycling categories in Japan, and was reminded that the more accustomed I become to living in Israel, the less familiar the U.S.A. becomes with each visit.

A few summers ago I was privileged to house-sit for a month in the Wedgwood district of Seattle (don't bother to look it's fictional because I can't remember the real name), a lovely upscale neighborhood with sidewalks, coffee shops (of course), bookstores, sidewalks, Thai restaurants (of course), an arty movie film theater, and did I mention sidewalks? The house was fabulous, the owner "Blossom" (whom I'd never met...a great match made by elswhere) lots of fun ... when Blossom came back from her holiday we became housemates for a couple of weeks (!), and the only mishap I had to report was my Great Embarrassment with Garbage.

I thought I had covered all bases by getting a Recycling Tutorial from Renaissance Woman: the plastic goes in the blue bin, the paper goes in the green one, the glass goes in the open basket (color irrelevant), the garden waste goes in the brown one, try to minimize the rest which goes in the black one because that's the only one the enlightened municipal authorities charge for. Oh and the green, blue, and black ones are emptied every week on a different day in each neighborhood, and the brown ones are emptied only every two weeks on another day. I marked my calendar and thought, "This house-sitting work is pretty easy. I just have to remember what day it is, which I think I can do once my jet-lag clears up."

Blossom had left a trusted workman Hans to finish up some repairs, which he did. Hans and I together dumped his debris in the black bin. When the appointed day rolled around, I pushed the bins to the curb and went off to enjoy another day with Mermaid Girl. How sad I was to return that evening to see said black bin still full at the curb with a white "report card" stuck to the lid. Among the many sins listed with checkboxes, my sin, the checked one, was "Overweight." For a moment I thought The War on Obesity had gone way overboard, until I realized that the weight limit was for the contents of the garbage bin, not for its owner. The rubble Hans and I had dutifully shovelled into the black bin was too heavy for the dainty muscles of Seattle's garbagemen.

Humpf. Well, every culture has its peculiarities, and living in Israel has definitely increased my tolerance for such*, so I laughed it off and next day Hans carted the offended rubble off to the dump in his pickup truck.

I thought I'd learned my lesson until last autumn in Florida. The Sarasota recycling system seemed pretty similar to the Seattle one, but I was fooled, having missed the fine points of plastic categorization. I'd put an empty plastic juice container with plastic, when in fact it did not meet Sarasota's standards for recyclable plastic. And to the public humiliation of Prowesslesslessness, Pippi Bluestocking, and The Little Bear (who, at age three months had limited tools with which to express her outrage), the offending bin was left at the curb after collection day, full, rejected, no reasons given. This provoked a schism in the otherwise seamless relationship of P. and P.B.: P's policy is to take all the offending items and toss them in the regular garbage, Sarasota's municipal government being less enlightened than Seattle's and not charging its residents for garbage by the pound. P.B. is willing to sort through the rejected items and re-submit the acceptable ones the following week. As a guest, I deferred to my hosts to resolve the issue, and decided to work harder on my relaxation and deep breathing exercises whenever I have to throw something away in the U.S.A. And not to visit Japan any time soon.

*One fine day, while walking on mixed-use commercial and residential street in Jaffa, I was nearly hit in the head by a small bag of flying garbage tossed overboard from a second floor balconey by a less than civic-minded resident. And now I add to my daily prayers, "Any day you're not hit by flying garbage is a good day."


Noorster said...

I would fail miserably, I know.
And re: flying bags of junk - the same thing happened to me in Jerusalem! In the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, of all places.

paulmonster said...

I very narrowly missed an Interesting Immersive Experience of this sort, in Manila. And so now, as I dutifully remember not to forget to organize the recycling here in Portland, OR, I can't help but think of the shoals of styrofoam, and other more pungent objects, drifting in Manila Bay...