Tuesdays is rubbish collection day in our neighbourhood. It’s the day on which we all dutifully roll our black wheelie bins out onto the kerb in front of our houses, until the garbage truck comes around to empty them.
In November 2007, a recycling project was instituted in our area (see here and here). It is operated by a company called WastePlan. They give us a white see-through plastic bag every Tuesday, and then we fill it with recyclables (plastic, glass, tin, metal, tetra packs, paper, cardboard, packaging material, etc.). The next Tuesday, we leave it outside with our black bin, and sometime during the day the WastePlan truck comes around to pick it up and to leave us a replacement bag. The City Council sends their garbage truck around independently.
It sounds fairly straightforward and would in theory be a nice, clean and above all convenient way of recycling. And I’m a big fan of recycling. In fact, thanks to this project, we’ve reduced our rubbish down to two small bags a week and one large bag of recycling material – any food scraps go straight onto the compost heap, and the old newspapers and anything of glass goes into the big igloos at the local council offices. It’s fantastic!
Unfortunately, we have a trolley brigade.
Based on observations, they can be divided into several categories:
- Those who are formally part of WastePlan: They take the clear plastic bag with the recyclables out of the black bin and give us a replacement bag. They usually precede the truck by a road or a block or so. A nice lot.
- Those who are informally-and-kind-of part of WastePlan: They’re supposed to wear a green or yellow bib with the name ‘WastePlan’ on it, or an overall with said name; I’ve rarely seen them with their bibs or overalls, though, and when confronted in a friendly kind of way, they’ve either lost the bibs, or it’s been nicked, or they’re on the washing line. Hm,… really? They have lately started to cart around green see-through bags, and now insist on going through what’s in the black bins too.
- Those who are most emphatically not part of WastePlan, don’t want to be, and who have a serious attitude towards “their” rubbish. Go figure.
- Those who scavenge for pretty much anything edible: I really should feel sorry for those who are so poor, destitute and starving that they would scratch through what really should not be touched by human hand after it’s been in a bin for 7 days and in the baking sun for half a day, in the hope that it might still be edible. But they leave an absolutely nauseating and stomach-turning mess in my bin every single week, which I then have to clean up, so my level of compassion is pretty low at this stage.
Last week, around mid-morning on Tuesday, I heard my neighbour’s dog having a loud row with one of the trolley brigade, probably Category 2 or 3. They scarpered, but the ruckus brought my neighbour and me out into the front yard, where we had a friendly chat about the problems associated with garbage collection day and recycling. As we were standing there, two women came trundling up the road with their repossessed Pick ‘n Pay shopping trolley, filled with an assortment of white see-through plastic bags, bearing the WastePlan logo. This meant that they should be part of the official collectors, but they weren’t wearing the requisite identification tags nor any bibs. When they descended on our black bins, ignoring the recycling bag entirely, my neigbhour asked them what they were doing.
“We’re going through the bins,” was the reply.
“Yes, but why?” she demanded.
“We work for the company,” retorted the one woman.
“Really? But where are your bibs and your ID tags?”
“Oh, they didn’t give us any.” (Riiiight.)
“But if you’re working for the company, why are you scratching through the bins? Why aren’t you just taking the recycling bag?”
“The truck takes the bag. We just look for glass and plastic and tins in the bins.”
“But why? You can see that there’s a bag there with all the glass and plastic and tins… They’re already in the bag – you don’t have to go through the black bins.”
It made perfect sense to me, but the two women were fed up by now, so they trundled off. Closer inspection revealed that, while we were quizzing them, they had ripped open every single small bag in the black bin and emptied them out into the bin. You can imagine the mess… but you really shouldn’t. It’d make ya hurl.
Our neighbour was understandably incensed. So was I, mind you. She phoned the number of WastePlan. Bertie, the man in charge, wasn’t there, but she spoke with someone else at the call centre and explained the situation to them.
“Oh,” said the man on the other end, “we give them green see-through plastic bags, so that they can go through the black bins.”
“What? You *want* them to dig through the rubbish?”
“Yes, we’ve asked them to look through the bins to pick up recycling material.”
“But why? We *already* recycle! The whole point of recycling is that we don’t want people going through the rubbish. It’s unhygienic, potentially dangerous, and they leave a terrible mess behind.”
“Oh, but that’s what we ask them to do.”
“But it’s clearly not working!”
“Err…. Well, that’s what we asked them to do.”
My neighbour hung up, outrage and despair on her face. “OK, then let’s call the local ward councillor,” she said. He wasn’t available, but she left a message. I don’t know whether he called her back.
Late this morning, when I was washing the dishes, I happened to look up and saw two men going through the black bin. I went outside, a thunderous look on my face, but said in my politest and friendliest of voices, “Excuse me, what are you doing?”
“I’m working…. I’m looking for recycling stuff…” said the man with the beanie, scowling.
“The recycling bag is there,” I pointed to the clear plastic bag, full of lovely recycling stuff.
“No, I’m looking through the bin,” he said.
“Yes, I can see that. Why?”
“Because I work for the company.”
“Oh really? Where’s your bib?”
“It was stolen.”
“So then how do I know you’re working for the company? Bertie said that every one in his team gets an overall or a bib.”
“My overall was dirty. I washed it. It’s hanging on the line.”
“Oh, okay. So what’s your name then?”
“Snoep. You can ask Bertie – I spoke with him yesterday – he knows me. I asked him for a bib. He said I must be patient and wait for it.”
His colleague had trundled over a trolley, filled with with bottles, plastic, tin and piled sky-high with green recycling bags. These guys sure had been busy.
I continued talking to him for a while, trying to figure out why it was necessary to go through the black bins – and above all, to rip open every single rubbish bag and to empty the contents directly into the bin – when all the recycling material was cleanly and neatly tied up in a clear plastic bag.
In the end, I gave up.
I hate garbage collection day.