Irreverent Mama

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Yesterday evening, returning home from an evening with a friend, I scoop one of the blue boxes in front of my house, and set it on the porch.

(Blue boxes, for those of you not in the know, are large plastic bins into which we toss our recyclables: plastic, glass and aluminum, primarily. These are set at the curb and collected the same day as the garbage. Alternate weeks, we set out our "black boxes", which are filled with paper and cardboard. In the summers, blue box week is also garden waste week, and we set out bins or bags of lawn clippings (assuming I had such a thing as a lawn), leaves, weeds, etc.

It's a fine system.)

There is another blue box still at the curb, still full and awaiting the morning's collection. So why is this blue box, formerly full, now empty?

We have yet another recyling option in our fine city. (Actually, I think this one's provincial.) You can still toss your empty booze bottles in the blue box, but you can also take them in to the Beer Store (yes, that's really what it's called) where they will be re-used. Not only is this arguably more efficient, (and saves the government some money, likely; I seem to be feeling parenthetical today) but you get paid a small premium for each bottle returned.

Having no car, I'd long ago arranged with a neighbour that when they returned their bottles, they'd take mine, too. And were welcome to the two or three dollars profit that might result. To that end, bottles were accruing in a spare blue box on the shelf in the back porch.

They were accruing, that is, until my son, not aware of the system, noticed the extra blue box and put the bin of bottles out at the curb a few weeks back.


Or maybe not. For that night, some while after dark, I heard the distinctive clinking of bottles. In the shadows is a fellow, a little down-at-heel. He's astride a bicycle which has a clever little hand-made trolley behind it, a trolley which houses a large black metal bin. He's tipping the bottles into his bin.

A recycling scavenger!

Well, that's cool. I won't have to impose upon my neighbour. I need only to put my bottles at the curb with enough time for the recycling bike guy to come by. A symbiotic relationship: the bike guy gets the proceeds, I get rid of the bottles, and they end up where they should be, the Beer Store instead of the recycling depot. Perfect. I rather enjoy the nice, tidy balance of it all.

Upon conversation with neighbours, I discover that this is disapproved of. That others on my street have been known to chase him (and his colleagues; there are many of them) away, like raccoons out of the trash.

I am a little appalled. They are not expressing fear for the security of their homes. They do not fear they're being checked out for future burglarization. These people coming round, quietly in the evenings, do not make a mess, they are not intrusive, except for the clatter of bottles. The objection is territorial: my neighbours do not like these outsiders (these, let it also be noted, evidently poor outsiders) messing with their stuff. Even when their stuff is being discarded.

They object to their appearance. Not because they look potentially criminal. Because they are shoddy.

Shoddy? They are clean, they are appropriately dressed for their task in jeans and t-shirts. They are simply not dressed in the styles, colours, and labels of the affluent.

Some of my neighbours sneer at these people. "Losers."

Losers? They bike for miles, they haul loads of bottles each week, they appear to be pretty systematic in their rounds. Couldn't this be viewed as laudably entrepreneurial? Seems to me they're working pretty hard for a paltry few dollars. And if that's pathetic to you, that's only because you've been privileged enough never to be in a situation where a few dollars really matters. What's pocket change to you might be fresh vegetables on the table for these people.

Or, as one neighbour pointed out, a pack of cigarettes. So? Your pocket change buys you the wine you sip on your porch most evenings. How is that so very different? -- except that these people might well have to do without their personal vice were it not for your discarded bottles and their hard work.

It's so easy to be superior. Why does it seem so hard to be kind?



  • I also put my empties out in a separate box for those Bottle Collectors to easily scoop. I usually use a cardboard box so that they can just take the whole thing.
    I don't have a problem with it.

    By Blogger Denguy, at 11:36 p.m.  

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