Urban Adulting for Suburbanites: Orthotraxy

Trash Can Caution by Protopian Pickle Jar (2015) CC By-SA 2.0
Trash Can Caution by Protopian Pickle Jar (2015) CC By-SA 2.0

Every since I was a little kid, I’ve been concerned with proper trash disposal. “Do not litter” was stamped into my pre-school-age brain. Then, in elementary school, I was into the Process of sorting recyclables for our new curbside pickup bin. You have to figure out if the thing goes in the trash or recycling. Next, check the little triangles on the plastics, rinse the food containers, and sort the paper (for years, the recycling company couldn’t take magazines or shiny paper, though they do now.)

As I grew older, I learned about composting, both the backyard and worm bin varieties. While all organic material is compostable (i.e. will eventually break down into soil), some things like decomposing meat, dairy and fats are *much* stinkier than fruit and vegetable scraps. I made sure only to compost approved less-stinky materials, to avoid critter visitors to my pile. In a worm bin, worms can picky about their foodstuffs (they really don’t like citrus), I made sure to sort the peels that went into my worm farm.

In my kitchen, I have taken up my mother’s (and grandmother’s) practice of sticking organic trash in freezer to prevent it rotting outside for days in the trash can prior to pickup.

Garbage cans (in city-provided ones that can be picked up by the mechanical arm on the garbage truck) need to be in the appropriate location on the curb. Hazardous materials need to be specially disposed of with the Environmental Department to prevent landfill leakage.

In my mind, proper disposal of trash became conflated with virtuous civic engagement. A secular religion of environmental responsibility. If concern for proper ethical and ritual religious behavior is termed Orthopraxy, then love of appropriate trash disposal could be called “Orthotraxy.”

I brought my “orthotraxy” with me to Detroit, where I learned that weekly trash pickup is a major victory. On our street, there isn’t really a special spot to put trash cans, they just need to be on the street accessible to the mechanical arm of the garbage truck. On trash day, the cans sprout up between parked cars that line the streets.

Most of our trash is food waste from the kitchen, which I’ve been putting in our awesome backyard covered compost. I think we also have a rodent critter than likes to visit it, but I don’t begrudge him/her eating our kitchen scraps. It just explains why there are occasionally kale stalks and eggshells strewn around the outside of the composter.

Our duplex also had a recycling bin delivered, a big one the same size as the trash can. However, it took me a few weeks to figure out that 1) recycling pickup is only every 2 weeks and 2) we share our bin with our upstairs neighbors (which may explain a) why it is always full and b) often contains non-recyclable items which I didn’t put in it.) But my neighbors may not be the ones responsible for the non-recyclables.

We have had very little trash, usually about 1 bag per week. I was surprised when I took the trash can out on Thursday night at how heavy it was. I realized that someone else (who uses different trash bags) had been putting their trash in our trash can. I didn’t really mind, it was all getting picked up and going to the same place.

However, when I brought the can back to the house from the curb on Friday night, I was again surprised at how heavy it was. Did the city not pick up the trash? I peeked inside: There was a full trash bag (totally different than the ones that were in it Thursday evening) that someone else had put in the trash can while it sat on the curb *after* the city picked up all the other trash in it.

Hey, at least they stuck it in a trash can! Anonymous mystery trash contributors, I can only wonder at your motivations. Was your trash can too full? Did you not want to schlep your trash can to the curb? Did you have stinky trash and forgot about pickup until it was already over?

My sense of righteousness and orthotraxy is smarting at your transgressions, but in the scheme of things, they are minor ones.

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