Thursday, June 24, 2010


We have three dumpsters in the refuse area for our apartment building. Two are for garbage and one is for recyclables like metal, glass and cardboard.

For months now, I've been separating our trash and throwing the recyclables into the recycling dumpster and the garbage into the others. But I've noticed that many people completely disregard the distinction and throw any and all garbage into any of the dumpsters. Part of the problem is that the two garbage dumpsters aren't large enough and always wind up overflowing before pickup day, so people resort to using the recycling dumpster for garbage.

Earlier this week, I was carrying some recyclables to the dumpster while the garbage truck happened to be there. To my surprise, the driver told me it didn't matter which dumpster I threw the recycling into -- he put it all in the same truck. I asked, do the recyclables actually get recycled? He said the garbage was separated at the utility plant.

Well, this seemed pretty puzzling to me. Why have people go through the trouble of separating their trash if it all ultimately gets thrown together in the same garbage truck?

I called the town recycling center and was surprised by the answer. For single-family homes and many multi-family developments, separating trash works. But apparently because my apartment community has so few dumpsters, the trash gets comingled to such a degree that the garbage collectors have essentially given up on us. And contrary to what the driver said, the recycling coordinator told me that all the trash in our development goes to the landfill. It's not cost effective to separate it.

Of course, as a committed recycler, I'm really disappointed to hear this news. No matter what I do, my trash is all destined to be buried, because my neighbors so completely disregard the separating instructions.

I asked the recycling coordinator if there were any other options. He said I could drive my recyclables to the recycling center in town, but that seems counterproductive because of the gas I'd use to get them there. (It's not in a part of town I'm likely to pass otherwise.)

Ugh! So much for environmentalism!

(Photo: Steps on the side of a petroleum tank, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.)


  1. Our apartment complex used to have a recycling dumpster at the outer edge of the complex - completely away from the other dumpsters. That worked pretty well, but apparently not enough people used it so they took it away. So we would drive our recyclables into town - but we tried to make it part of trips to the post office (it was near there). Now that we've moved to a house we have two separate pickups (on the same day, but two different trucks) for recyclables & trash. Makes me very happy - but my next goal is to quit using so much packaged stuff!

  2. Yeah, I wonder too.

    That photo is exquisite! So graceful. Is it hot there? We're dyin' down here.

  3. There is no recycling here for apartment dwellers...I only do it because my neighbor works for the garbage people and can put it on the trucks without notice.

  4. Steve,

    The books are:

    Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard

    The Woman in the Fifth by Douglas Kennedy

    Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosney...

  5. I LOVE that picture.

    Here in Newton, the City gives each house separate bins for trash & recycling, and they're collected by separate trucks, as The Bug described.

    But in Keene, where trash collection is done by private contractors, I've watched the trash guys toss sorted food cans in with the trash: apparently they only bother sorting aluminum, glass, & paper even though the city mandates that we sort food cans as well. Like you said, some of the contractors don't think recycling "everything" is worth their time.

  6. Jacksonville has given up on recycling, because nobody in the state of Florida wants to pay any taxes to support even valued government programs.

    We are also closing libraries.

    I'm so proud.

  7. I always wondered about all those recycling bins, thinking most of it was to make us feel like we were doing something green when in fact it was all tossed in together in the end.

    I'll bet those many bins are for real in Germany though. They mean business about things like recycling.

  8. when the refuse collector said the garbage was separated at the utility plant, did he mean that the recyclables eventually made their way to the recycling center? The good thing about separating the trash from recyclables that come from apartment buildings is that is is much easier to separate, since a lot of residents follow the recycling rules as much as they can, and the recyclables are cleaner now, whereas years ago food containers weren't rinsed. When you leave caps on bottles with a tiny bit of liquid in them, the recycling people are wary--the liquid could be anything --so caps off, unless the bottle is empty.

  9. Oh wow, this is very similar to the one I posted. They do make interesting patterns!