Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Recycling: Can this maverick escape the round-up?

The City of Phoenix encourages its residents to recycle by distributing rolling “blue barrels”: one-household garbage bins made of blue plastic into which we are supposed to deposit our alleged recyclables, to be rolled out to the street in front where they’re picked up on Thursday mornings.

In the older sections of town — the tracts that have alleys (i.e., about 20 feet of blessedly empty space between you and the neighbor behind you), they park large four-household bins for actual garbage, to be picked up (also on Thursdays) and trucked to the county landfill.

Both of these are nuisances.

Dragging your trash out to the front curb: a messy bother that invariably results in trash dumped in the street.

Sharing garbage collection with neighbors who dump stuff on the ground and let it lie: for the birds.

Sharing garbage collection with neighbors who drop dog sh!t in the bin and leave the lid open for the breeding convenience of the local mosquito and fly populations: for the birds. (Literally: birds love flies and mosquitoes: gooood to eat!)

Sharing garbage collection with neighbors who jam the bin chuckablock full so you can’t fit in your little Safeway bag full of nonrecyclables (or anything else!): for the birds.

All of these glories may be about to come to an end.

Ever since the upwardly mobile (read: money, political clout) young mother walked out into her backyard to find one of the local bums had jumped her back wall and was happily molesting her two little girls, the new (much treasured!) upwardly mobile neighbors have been up in arms. Among other things, they’ve demanded that the city close off the alleys!

Among the several things this will entail is the end of garbage collection in the alleys. The city had already proposed this (for different reasons: its subcontractor resents having to drive its huge 21st-century garbage trucks down throughways built for 1960s equipment) and been roundly rejected.

But now, lo! We have new neighbors, new bums, and a change of heart.

If they close the alleys, they’ll end up issuing new, one-house garbage bins to all the residents. These are the same size as the blue barrels, only colored mud green. As with the blue barrels, we’ll have to roll them out to the curb for the garbage collectors to dump into their trucks (and, incidentally, all over the street and our yards).

Now, for the micro-news:

This is fine by me, except that I keep the recycling barrel in the garage and don’t have room for two of such barrels. And I’m sorry, but I’m NOT going to store one of those ugly things on my expensively landscaped and maintained xeriscaped front yard!

So I’ve been thinking about this, and… Last time I talked to the City about the trash pickup — to complain about their dumping trash all over the front yard, sidewalk, and street — I said “and there’s all these food wrappers on the ground.” This elicited a knee-jerk lecture from the woman on the other end of the line, who insisted, THREE TIMES, that “you’re not supposed to put food wrappers in the recycling.” Every time I would reply, “But they’re NOT my food wrappers!” she would re-run her lecture from the beginning.

This is the caliber of people hired to run the city’s recycling program. 😀

But…the truth is, some of the stuff that goes into my blue barrel is food wrappers. And…as a practical matter, prob’ly about 70% to 80% of the stuff I dump in there is not really what the City defines as “recyclable.” That barrel is convenient because it’s in the garage, and so I often will toss stuff there that ought to be recyclable and that in many other municipalities is recyclable but that is not recyclable in lovely uptown Phoenix.

Here’s the thing: I prepare almost all my food from scratch. That means I buy things in bulk; I buy vegetables and fruits that don’t come in packages; I buy meat and fish and chicken that don’t come in packaging that our honored Subcontractor defines as “recyclable.”

BUT because I buy a lot of stuff from Costco, many things I buy come in cellophane wrappers and consumer-proof plastic clamshells that very probably are not “recyclable.”

It’s a rare day that I buy a consumer product that comes in a truly “recyclable” package.

A-n-d…by way of not having to put on my clothes and track down a pair of shoes and unlock a padlocked gate and take my life in my hands to go out to the alley (you don’t go out there after dark, not on a bet), I just drop all the junk in the blue barrel.

So I’m thinking, if and when they put the alley-closure scheme into action, I’m going to stash the blue barrel in what will then be my piece of property behind the house and keep the new brown barrel in the garage. Everything can then be dumped into the brown barrel, and I will never have to go into the alley again.


Underscoring my point that very little of what I consume comes in recyclable packaging:

Couple of days ago, I decided I would try a packaged meal. Normally I don’t eat the things, because they taste terrible and they’re decidedly not worth their price. But this was a fancy gourmet packaged meal from the fancy gourmet market: a scampi concoction with enough garlic to cover many a factory-made culinary sin.

This noon, not in the mood for cooking, I opened it to make the day’s Big Meal.

The packaging defies belief:

a plastic package of sauce. (Defrost this in a bowl under running hot water. How…ecologically wonderful… /s)
a plastic package of cooked noodles. (Defrost in a colander under cold running water. Uhmmmm…)
a plastic package of frozen spinach and red bell pepper slices
a plastic package of small, raw shrimp

The plan: Defrost the sauce by wasting a large amount of heated water. Defrost the noodles by wasting a large amount of cold water. Dump these along with the vegetables and shrimp into a pan and…well…heat. Et voilà! Dinner! Or something.

The quality of this fine meal was OK. Just OK. The amount of waste it generated boggles the brain: four plastic packages plus a larger plastic bag to hold the set of smaller plastic bags. Not to mention the amount of water wasted down the drain.

Now…  We’re told that we’re not allowed to recycle “food wrappers.” So…presumably none of this stuff was recyclable! In theory, none of it should’ve gone into the blue barrel. But in practice, all of it did.

Consider: if I had made this stuff as Real Food, rather than defrosting it out of a package, here’s the wrapping we would have had:

tomatoes: none (I would’ve made a tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes, fresh garlic, olive oil, and herbs from the garden)
olive oil: some day, about two months from now, 1 plastic or glass olive oil jar
fettucini: 1 small cardboard box, holding enough pasta for not one but four meals
shrimp: none if bought fresh; 1 Costco plastic bag if bought frozen in enough quantity to make not one but a half-dozen meals
spinach: none
red bell pepper: none
bag to carry the stuff home: none if purchased at Costco; two if purchased at a regular grocery purveyor…bags that would be used to collect dog mounds off the neighbors’ yards

Hence, my theory that in reality I dispose of little actually recyclable waste. So minimal, as a matter of fact, that on trash pickup day I could simply walk across the street and drop the few recyclables I might have into the neighbor’s blue barrel.

Maybe, though…maybe that’s un-American. How much recyclable waste, really, does your household generate?



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Author: funny

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  1. Our city recycles all paper; aluminum and steel cans; No. 1 & 2 plastics (not too many food containers, mostly laundry detergent and other cleaning product bottles, water bottles); and glass. No separating or label removal required. I’m glad to participate. No big deal. Keep the open recycle container in attached garage, just outside the door to the house. Everything rinsed, so no smell.

    • Yes, ours also requires no separating. One does like to wash stuff, though, to remove chemicals and defunct food.

      Here, too, though: if you buy detergent in Costco Lifetime Supplies and there’s only one of you, it takes half your lifetime to go through ONE bottle of the stuff. You’re not exactly filling up the container…there’s no reason why I couldn’t drop those things into my neighbor’s bin as the products get used up.

  2. O…M….G…..Funny you’re killing me!! You need to get your local government on the ball. In this neck of the woods our local, state and municipal guys are constantly trying to find new ways to keep things out of the landfill and put to use. The local grocery chain even has a bin for collection of plastic bags. These bags are collected made into new bags or that new “fancy” plastic deck lumber. We are a “pay as you go” county so homeowners contract for their refuse/recycling service….or if you’re thrifty/CHEAP, you handle the matter yourself. Around once a month I run errands and swing by the recycling center and deposit two “contractor’s bags” full of recyclables. Our Center collects separately cardboard, three kinds of plastics, motor oil, anti freeze, paint and even Styrofoam . I cash in the aluminum and metal at another place about twice a year for $. Recycling is FREE ….trash not so much. Between the tumbling composter, recycling and the woodstove DW and I produce just about a small plastic grocery bag of trash …. every 3 weeks. I would encourage you to recycle as much as you can….Landfills are an environmental and economic nightmare.

    • It sounds like where you’re living is fairly rural. Our trash pick-up is part of the water bill — it’s not dependent on how much you throw out, and you have no control over the amount they charge.

      We’re not allowed to put plastic bags into the recycling. One (1) grocer that I know of collects plastic bags. Sprouts will give you a (tiny) discount if you bring your own bag to the checkout line. I haven’t tried it at WF…they may do so, too, given their ethos. WF only hands out paper bags (though you can buy cloth bags if you choose0.

      Hmmmm… I’m not saying I’m not going to recycle. What I’m saying is that by the time you filter out all the stuff the City says we shouldn’t be putting into the blue barrel, it would take weeks for me to fill it up (all the while, it soaks up much needed space in the garage). For the verifiable recycles that I end up with at the end of a week — mostly in the form of junk mail — it would make sense to get the neighbor’s permission to simply carry it over to her blue barrel on pickup day.

      In other words, we have two households side by side that, most weeks, don’t need two separate barr3els.

      • Nope….We live in a very suburban area that has actually become a “Richestan” of sorts. But the County government has witnessed the costs of landfills, incinerators and recycling first hand. By far recycling is the most economically feasible. Landfill costs NEVER end….An incinerator in York Pa. just about bankrupted the town….Recycling works…By luck or hard work our “Solid Waste Guys” have found and continue to look for ways to recycle and keep things out of the waste stream. And the next county over has begun “composting” kitchen and yard waste commercially at their recycling center . Their goal is to become a “zero waste” community soon. IMHO you need to wake up your community leaders…..

      • Wake them up? That would be like trying to wake up a rock. Remember, this is one of the most conservative states in the nation — if not THE most conservative. Ideas like recycling come under the head of “liberalism,” which is akin to “Satanism.”

  3. The vast majority of my recycling is paper, primarily mail.

    • Yes! The junk mail is JUST unconscionable. It makes me furious that we’re chopping down forests and contaminating the environment with inks and dyes so stupid marketers can blitz us all with a torrent of envelopes that we never even open. Most days when I pick up the mail, I go direct from the mailbox to the trash can and drop the entire fistful into the recycling.

      WHY is that legal?

  4. Last I heard, our county recycles #1 & 2 plastic, glass jars, metal cans, newspaper, magazines and corrugated cardboard. Everything is comingled except the cardboard, which has its own bin. They don’t pick it up in the neighborhood where I live, so once or twice a month we bag it and take it to the transfer station a few minutes away. We save office paper and slip it into the recycling at my husband’s office every so often.

    I’d like to compost our veggie scraps, but I’m not sure where we could put a composter or what I’d throw in for brown matter. I’ve thought about vermicomposting, but I’m afraid I’d inadvertently kill the poor things.

    If we could recycle styrofoam and pasteboard, as well as other types of plastic, we wouldn’t have much to throw out besides used kitty litter.

  5. I don’t put my recycle bin out to the curb unless it’s full. I do find that it fills up rather slowly, too, but I’m really relentless in minimizing what goes in the actual trash (landfill).

    Don’t you drink tea or coffee? Those are packaged (cardboard boxes of tea bags, and metal or plastic containers for coffee). My recycling also includes junk mail, jars and cans (from the pumpkin I feed my dog, sauces or condiments, etc.), and the paper tubes from toilet paper and paper towels.

    My largest waste product is compost. We compost kitchen and yard waste here, so fruit/veggie peels, coffee grounds, used tea bags, used facial tissues, soiled food containers and wrappers (like paper cups and paper wrappers) all go in the compost along with yard waste like leaves, sticks, etc.

    My waste removal bill is based on the size of my actual trash can. There are three sizes, and I have the smallest one. Even putting all the dog waste in there, it only fills up about every 3 weeks. The city will give me two “brown” bins (for compost) and one “blue” bin (for recyclables) at no charge.

    Maybe your city’s definition of “wrappers” isn’t what you think it is?

    • Same here. Unless some fairly large package has come for Amazon, it usually takes a month before it’s worth dragging the thing out to the street…even then it’s not full.

      I buy whole coffee beans and loose tea. Whether the brown bags coffee beans come in are recyclable, I don’t know: they’re not on the list of prohibited things. They have a waxy lining, which surely wouldn’t compost readily. Loose tea comes in nifty cans, many of which I keep for other uses.

      If you’re putting all your kitchen waste that’s not meat products into the composter, you end up with not very much stuff to have to throw in the garbage, per se (as opposed to the recycling).

      By “wrappers,” I’m assuming the woman meant cellophane packaging or, oh, say candy wrappers. She kept saying “food wrappers.” Well…but what IS that? Food comes wrapped in any number of products: plastic clamshells, plastic bags, paper bags, paper-and-plastic bags, paper bags with cellophane windows, completely cellophane bags, cardboard boxes, styrofoam plates lined with those meat juice absorbent sponge things, shrink wrap, styrofoam cups…?????? Could be any or all of those.

      The city doesn’t do much to clarify the question.

      • Yeah, her response seems very unhelpful. When I have a question about what can be included in what bin, I usually look a the waste company’s website, which is very complete.

        Usually if the plastic container has a number on it, it can be recycled. I put all plastic clamshells in the recycling, as well as paper bags. Plastic wrap goes in the trash, unless it is very clean. Then it goes in a plastic bag in which I collect all the recyclable clean plastic film and bags and drop off at a local shopping area when I get groceries. (We have a plastic bag ban here, but the plastic bags used for veggies and such don’t seem to be affected by that.)

        We get to compost meat and bones, too, which really cuts down on the trash! Styrofoam, sadly, is not recyclable.

  6. The city’s website is where I got the list of what NOT to put in the recycling. There’s a grocery store where you can return plastic bags, but I don’t think you can take plastic film there.

    A couple of cities in the state tried to ban plastic bags. This caused SO much outrage among the right wing that, believe it or not, the state legislature passed a ban on banning plastic bags!!!!! Yes: it is ILLEGAL for a municipality to tell retailers they can’t hand out plastic bags.

    heh heh heh…Arizona! What a place!

    I use store plastic bags to pick up dog mounds on doggy walks. This means I don’t have to buy still MORE plastic bags for the purpose. I also use them as garbage bags, since we’re not allowed to put them in the recycling.

    It’s the stupidest thing, this plastic bag business. I remember when grocery stores switched over from paper bags to plastic bags. I HATED them. They don’t hold as much as a paper grocery sack, and they fall open in the car so your groceries roll all over the trunk. With a van or SUV, you have to have a box (yeah: plastic) to hold the bags of groceries, unless you want to climb around digging apples out from under the seats.

    But in those days I didn’t have dogs. I don’t know what I’d do about picking up after them on doggy-walks…in those days, you didn’t. Homeowners would run out and yell at dog walkers, but there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it: dog mounds on your lawn were just part of life in those days.

    Still, I expect if dog owners bought those rolls off doggy pickup bags but everything else were toted around in paper bags, there would be a LOT less filmy plastic blowing in the breeze. 😀