Monday, May 26, 2008

It would be funny if it weren't painfully true...

A recent article in The Onion stated, "A report on growing disparities in the concentration of U.S. aluminum-can wealth, released Tuesday by the Department of Commerce, revealed that 66 percent of the nation's recyclable assets are now held by the poorest 1 percent of the population." It goes on--tongue firmly in cheek--to obliquely describe the growing trend of dumpster diving to retrieve recyclables for cash. It's not much cash--maybe a nickel or dime per bottle or can--but for the very poor and homeless who dig through the trash, it can mean the different between eating or not.

I live in an area heavily populated with apartment buildings--and behind each one a communal dumpster. The scavengers go from one to another to rummaging through to find a cast-off can or two. I have no problem with it--recycling is always a good thing. My only issue is with one intrepid scavenger who chose 6:30 am as the appointed hour for her rummaging activities. Not only did the THUMP of the dumpster lid and clattering sounds of going through its contents disrupt my sleep, but she then would CRUSH and CRUMPLE every single can and bottle before putting them in her giant trash bag.

So one morning I dragged my weary ass out of bed and confronted her at the dumpster. I didn't mind her rummaging, but could she please do it at a more decent hour? Say after 9 am? I'm not sure she understood me because, although she scurried off after I made my request, she was back the next week. After my third request (which was decidedly more threatening than my initial plea), she disappeared for good. I'm not sure if it was my words or my just rolled out of bed at 6 am appearance that scared her off. I'm betting on the latter.

I'm not the only one disturbed by scavengers skulking in off hours--according to this article in the Palo Alto Daily, "Police say taking recyclables to sell them for cash is theft and can result in citations. But trash authorities say little has been done to crack down on the problem." The growing trend of dumpster diving has led some to expand into can poaching--retrieving recyclables thrown into city owned recycling receptacles. The director of Minneapolis' Recycling and Solid Waste Program estimates that the city loses $700 a day to can "thieves." And in the Big Apple, the recycling theft was such an issue that they have instituted and enforced stiff new penalties.

Of course, some of these "can thieves" are driving around and taking recyclables from bins and receptacles placed curbside. These are not the homeless looking for a way to get some change to get some food or even "Freegans" (Can't you tell how much I love using that word?). They're not digging through garbage to get an odd aluminum can or two--in some cases they even take the bin itself! And they're not cruising through the neighborhood with a shopping cart, but instead often are driving pick-ups with out-of-state license plates...

The guy who goes through the trash in my neighborhood now is a little, old Hispanic man. I like him because he comes in the middle of the day. And since he's not disrupting my sleep, I save my bottles and cans for him. Whenever I hear him rummaging, I grab the trash bag full of soda cans and run down to catch him. He's always so polite and grateful. Last week I hadn't seen him in a while so I had TWO full bags of cans. When I handed them to him he was so appreciative. He kissed my hand! Then he ask me if I spoke Spanish. Not really--maybe just a few words. Well that launched him into a long and eloquent speech in Espanol. My few words of Spanish are: fiesta, siesta, burrito, enchilada, quesadilla, nachos, uno, dos, tres, mucho, por favor, gracias, buenos dias and hasta la vista, baby! I am pretty well-equipped to place an order at Taco Bell, but that's about it...

I just nodded my head and smiled. And felt good that a few cans could not only help the environment, but brighten a little old man's day as well.

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