We got a notice last week that our town is changing the way trash pickup is run. Instead of being able to throw away as much as we want, however we want to put it out, we'll have to fit all our trash for the week in a town-issued bin. New trash trucks will have robot arms that'll pick up and dump the bins without the garbage man having to set foot outside of the cab. If you have more trash than can fit in the bin you'll have to pay per bag.
At first, I though this was totally cool. The automated bin pickup alone is pretty fun—I've admired the system at work in other towns (like Santa Monica; remember when we lived there?). And of course we like the idea of limiting how much households can throw away for free. Sure, you'll be able to dump an awful lot before you have to start using the overflow bags, but at least it gets people thinking about the value of trash pickup.
After a bit more reflection, though, some downsides occurred to me. Worst for us personally (and for other right-thinking trash picking folks, like the woman we spoke to on our walk this afternoon) is that it will be a whole lot harder to find another man's treasures out on the curb. Not only will everything be in the bins rather than piled enticingly for our perusal, the rules say that the bins have to be closed. While I don't mind poking through a promising pile, I think I draw the line at opening every trash can I pass in search of something interesting. I imagine that people who are disposing of items that they think might be of value to someone else will still leave them on the curb for a little while before trash day, but a lot of what I've found—five gallon buckets, broken tool handles for plant stakes, small pieces of good lumber—would probably be tossed directly.
The effect that the new system has on garbage men is another issue. It used to take two guys to run each truck; I'm pretty sure now it'll only be one. So half as many people will be working, and I hope the one left is an introvert because he's going to have a pretty boring day by himself otherwise. Maybe he can talk on the phone like our newspaper delivery girl does every morning. (I don't worry about mail carriers, who also have their trucks to themselves on their repetitive daily rounds—I know they're all introverts.) The trash company must be saving money to be able to afford to give us all free trash cans; I'm sure a good portion of that comes from reducing salary.
So news is mixed. If only there were an efficient system to allocate "trash" items, one that didn't use stupid yahoo groups. We have stuff that we don't want in our house anymore, but we know it would be useful to someone if only we could find them, and I'm sure that there's so much thrown away that we would love to have. Of course, this is all a pretty modern problem: I was just reading (in a blog post about 19th-century vocabulary) how, in 1815, they didn't even have trash cans:
Weird note. Trashcans, wastepaper baskets, garbage cans... none of these exist even as a concept. Everything got reused, fed to the pigs, or burned in the fire.
The reusing we can manage, but we're a little short on pigs. Will chickens do?