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Baffling bins

Confusing regulations on recycling are only the tip of the compost pile

Baffling bins

(Krieg Barrie)

Here is how work regulation works on me: If there is not enough of it, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do; if there is too much of it, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

A case in point on the second problem is the new recycling bins that suddenly appeared at work a month ago. One blue-labeled and the other green, they stand side-by-side in every location where there used to be only a nondescript beige can. Blue says, “Paper and Cardboard,” and in finer print: paper and books; newspapers and magazines; cardboard boxes (flattened); no coffee cups. Green says, “Commingled,” and accepts plastic bottles and jugs (empty and crushed first); glass bottles and jars; cans and metal (empty and crushed first); no coffee cups or lids. There is still, of course, the regular trash receptacle too, though I’m not clear on what “regular” is anymore.

It is fortunate for me that I have the rest of my janitorial job down pat now (some of you may remember the paper towel dispenser tutorials of last spring) because I would have been as overwhelmed as Lucy on the chocolate factory assembly line if the manifold recycling choices had been thrown at me from the start. Now at least I have time to bone up on trash in the 21st century. I have learned the following:

The blue recycling can behind my house is strictly for: bottles (no tops, please); greeting cards (if they have no foil or glitter); magazines; newspapers; writing paper; aerosol cans. Unacceptable items: plastic bags; shredded paper; aluminum foil; cardboard juice cartons; mixed plastics (margarine tubs; ice cream cartons; yogurt pots; cling film); clothing; household or garden waste; polystyrene; kitchen waste (consult your local on proper composting); glass (see separate glass disposal instructions).

Chemistry is not my thing, and polystyrene looks like monostyrene at a quick glance.

At the Philadelphia airport last year, a young TSA worker near the security checkpoint saw me looking too long into the gaping mouths on top of a trio of disposal cans and reading the wording with my Burger King wrappings in hand: “It all gets thrown into the same hole,” he chuckled. If it’s true, that’s scandalous. But he might just have been a bad apple. (See municipal rules on bad apple disposal.) Still, it makes me suspicious that the two slots for mail at the post office marked “19038” and “Other zip codes” all fall into the same basket on the other side of the wall.

I know I will be that one person in the cafeteria who holds up traffic at the exit studying the illustrations, and ends up throwing my empty smoothie cup in the cardboard hole anyway just because I don’t want to look unintelligent. Chemistry is not my thing, and polystyrene looks like monostyrene at a quick glance. Instantaneous accuracy is as unlikely there as on that part of the SAT where you had to read a list of related things and mark the one that doesn’t quite belong, before the proctor’s bell rings. I want to be the person who’s on the ball. I fantasize my leave-taking from food courts as something suave and debonair.

But I have always been the other sort. In first grade I alone boarded the wrong bus home from camp. In third grade, Soeur Ste. Edouard de la Croix was suddenly in my face, yanking me from pleasant space travels with a jolting “Are you there?” before my peers. In eighth grade Sister Irene slapped me publicly when I passed out quiz papers before she had clicked her clicker. I hadn’t caught her instructions.

My friend John the contractor has bigger problems. As a home services contractor he must get licensed, take the EPA-mandated re-education class, read clients the “Renovate Right” pamphlet, post warning signs, don regulation clothing, remove furniture from work areas, erect barriers, lay additional plastic sheeting, and document it all impeccably for the agency. Customers, for their part, must shell out an extra $95 to $125 per window. Violation for noncompliance can be $37,500 per day.

In January President Donald Trump invited American manufacturers to the White House seeking their recommendations on ways to cut regulations and reverse the choke hold on business caused by too many regs. God got His commandments down to 10. May the new regime be thus inspired.


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  • MTJanet
    Posted: Fri, 05/19/2017 06:14 pm

    God got His Commandments down to 10 - what an awesome line.  Now if only the politicians can get our taxes down to 10%, and keep it in line with the evil kings from the OT.  

  • nevertheless
    Posted: Mon, 05/22/2017 07:58 am

    What rhymes with Janitorial? It was fun looking this up on Duck Duck Go; but I digress. The scandal is that janitors can do, at the end of the trash removal cycle, pretty much whatever they want. They answer to a higher power. So, if they reason that white paper will biodegrade and actually assist in the biodiversity of the land fill, or, say, make the incineration process more efficient by way of inclusion in the dumpster ... they may, in the end, have a clear conscious before the judgement seat of Christ. (I'm not crazy, this is what intelligent Janitors do with all that alone time, deep in the bowels of suburban four story office buildings when all their friends, if they have any, are watching SNL. Btw, my favorite was 'Raptorial')

  • RC
    Posted: Thu, 06/01/2017 03:51 pm

    When oil was more expensive it was economical for a company to collect and remanufacture used Styrofoam, but now that raw produce for Styrofoam, oil, is cheaper, the cost too ship and remanufacture the used stuff is too high.   Into the land fill the used Styrofoam goes.

  • janevir
    Posted: Sun, 06/04/2017 05:27 am

    I always enjoy your columns but this one made me laugh out loud. So like me! And do you have troubles decoding laundry labels, too? There's an app for that. But I can only see it with my glasses on...and they usually aren't. Thanks for the light-hearted read.

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 07/23/2017 01:09 pm

    Why would *shredded* paper not be permitted in the mix?