Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rubbish Rules

This week, we look at the rules of rubbish.


There are quite a few rules in the USA, like not being able to get out of your car and pump your own gas/petrol in New Jersey (what’s that all about?) and Arkansas State Wine being the only brand of wine allowed in Arkansas supermarkets (yes, it exists). When it comes to rubbish/trash however, no one seems to care that much. Here in Chicago we have huge black wheelies for most of the stuff, and bright blue wheelies for all recycling. Yes, all recyclables go in one receptacle, and we only got that a year ago. Apparently, the City Hall web site is offering $50 off garden rain catchers, but this seems to be a closely-guarded secret. Despite the fact that we live right next to the largest body of fresh water in the world (Lake Michigan), our water’s not free and by golly those water people don’t want you saving the free stuff.

Not like this.

When we first got the blue wheelies, the City basically delivered two to every house and didn’t bother taking any black ones away. Chaos and much gnashing of teeth. No one could get their bloody cars out. Apparently you could phone the relevant city office to have extras removed, but who wants to spend all morning trying to get through? Instead, I lay in wait for the trash guys and asked them to take a few black ones away. No problem at all. None of that “more than me job’s worth”, or “you have to fill out a form” malarkey. They just chucked them in the back of the garbage truck and destroyed them. Ironic since they were embarking on a new recycling program, but – baby steps people.

Like this.


Strange, yet fortuitous, that this subject should come up. When I am not entertaining my fans with humorous vignettes of my adventures in Britain, I work as a project manager for a software company that installs systems for local councils to help them track their trash pickup. It’s true; I even go to rubbish conventions. It’s a laugh a minute.

But we take recycling pretty seriously over here (at least some of us do) and the system I am working on at the moment is the most comprehensive of all. This particular council has three types of bins: green for organic waste, blue for dry recycling and the standard black bin for everything else. And there are rules, oh yes. The recycling teams go around in the morning, and if they find a bin that has not met the criteria they punch a code into our system and this tags the customer with a “contamination.” When the customer gathers enough of these misdemeanours (sort of like a football player earning yellow cards) they are labelled as a “serial contaminator.”

Now, at this point, my job is done, so I don’t know what happens to you if you are awarded the title of “serial contaminator” though I don’t think that’s’ something you want to see in the local papers. I can only imagine the miscreants being ceremoniously stripped of their green and blue bins and summarily shunned by their neighbours. Since denying them the privilege of recycling would be counterproductive, I can only speculate that some sort of mandatory rehabilitation is imposed—community service at the local sorting depot might be a suitable chastisement.

Whatever the case, be aware, if you live in one of these districts, that they do not take kindly to you putting unauthorized items in the bins. Just look at what happened when that lady binned the cat.

And what, pray tell, do you put in this?  Discarded bouquets?


  1. California is much more like the Uk when it comes to recycling. saf Francisco especially so. We have three bins, one for glass, plastic and metal and paper, onefor food scraps and other compostables and one for trash. Not much actually goes in the trash. We pay for trash pick up but not for the recycling, and also get fined for putting stuff in the wrong bin. Its good, a lot less goes into landfill.

  2. Toni at least you live in a building small enough to get a free recycling bin. In not sure what the unit cutoff is, but whatever it is my six flat is above it, and my landlord is certainly not paying to get one and certainly not six. So short of actually taking my recycables on a bus to the center myself I'm reduced to stealth recycling. Which is to say I wander the alley until I find enough space in other peoples recycling bins to dump mine. Because I'm classy like that.

    I'd like to compost, because that would really reduce the amount of trash in my life, but all of the solution for people like me (ie people with no outdoor space much less yard or garden) are ridiculous to the point of unworkable. At one point I did have a roommate who tried to compost and it ended with the apartment being improbably infested with aphids. They're no bother most of the time, but any plant brought in besides rosemary is a goner.

  3. ELizabeth - I don't live in a building, it's a house. The problem was that each house seemed to be given about four wheelies, all of which were left just any old where in the alleys. Seriously, there were about 6 wheelies blocking my garage door and absolutely nowhere to put them. Neighbourly relations were starting to slide as people were moving wheelies away from their own property lines in the dead of the night. Quite funny really!

  4. We live in a flat, but are able to recycle because - for the time being - our council provides us with communal recycling bins. Unfortunately, our neighbors are not always conscientious about what they try to recycle (a bed, a three piece suite, end tables, etc) and we were labeled as "serial contaminators" for a while. We got the recycle bins back a while ago, but there is another three piece suite and sofa out there right now.

  5. In Brighton we have 2 pick ups a week. Wednesday is recycling. We got given 4 big black boxes with lids to recycle glass, paper/card, plastic and tin. We only have to separate the glass though. My problem with these boxes are we're not allowed to put them on the pavements yet the recyling team are not allowed onto our property. So during the week they live along our front garden path and on a Tues eve I put them on the garden step near the gate, hoping none of my Teens choose that night to come back worse the wear and trip over them! And the irony is, guess where I find the 4 black boxes and lids the following morning? Yes, spread liberally all over the pavements! I have to wander up and down finding our ones.
    The black bin bags are picked up on a Friday. We live in almost back to back terraces so no wheelie bins for us, no room. That is if the seagulls haven't already ripped them to shreds and covered the gardens & pavements.

  6. I've heard that in my part of England they will get more stict with contents, but I don't think they are at the level of Mike. Yet. I don't care for the required kitchen compost bins and their leaking bags. Gross

  7. Each County Council has its own rules. Over my way we have to beware!!!!! People are either avid recyclers or they don't care a toss!
    We have black bins for un-recyclable rubbish emptied only every fortnight! We can pay to hire a green bin for garden waste, clippings and small non meat eating animal droppings. That works out at about £30 per annum etc.These are emptied weekly.
    We have black boxes for paper, glass, tin, aluminium, and textiles, batteries, old specs etc, emptied weekly.
    Cardboard has to be left out separately in bundles. Collected weekly.
    We have small brown bins to put our food waste in, collected weekly.

    We have a load of fly tippers! That is against the law & can lead to hefty fines if they are caught.
    If people leave bagged up rubbish by a bin .... it won't be collected & the bin lid must be shut or else that will be left too.

    It is this kind of thing that annoys...... Sometimes mucky, multi-dwelling house holds don't recycle & after we put the bins out, we get people putting their un- recycled rubbish in out practically empty bins. Most people, after spending hours of recycling their stuff, get very annoyed that someone should dare do this.
    There are people in The Council who will go round & search through such rubbish and look for clues as to where it came from!Some one might leave a bag of rubbish outside your house by your bin. That means you could risk prosecution.

    On top of all this we have to take plastic to the nearest supermarket recycle point and also those milk cartons lined with foil.
    Phew! Well you did ask!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

  8. I only get pick ups every other week. Black bin one week, blue recycling bin the next week. It makes for really interesting Christmases when almost all the the rubbish at our house is recyclable.

  9. Here on Long Island we get three pickups a week - which I think just encourages people to throw more stuff away. Only one day a week do they pick up recycling, and it all goes into one, very inadequately sized, bin. There are no communal recyling areas either.
    The U.K. is definitely a lot further ahead.

  10. "Serial contaminator" - wow, that's quite a label.

  11. I'm finding it a lot better here (Ohio USA). We have weekly pickup for rubbish, garden waste and recycles--the recycles don't need to be separated. We have large rubbish, garden clipping and recycling collection at each firehouse, which is is great for clean-ups or post-holiday gatherings. We can have as many recycle bins as we want--each household is given 2 but may go to the centre and collect more. Our London flat had communal for rubbish and recycles and there were not many who followed the rules--it was generally a giant mess that the bin men ignored and the foxes enjoyed scavenging.

  12. We have yet another different system in Leicestershire, which I can't be bothered to describe, but the best ones I think are those where all your recycling goes in the one bin and gets sorted at the other end. My parents have that (in south Wales), though they do have little brown food bins as well. And they get weekly collections.

    Ours are fortnightly and we have a million different boxes with rules about what can and can't go in. Even though we have a detached house, we really don't have the space to store them all.

    When we first got our food waste bins, we were told we couldn't use biodegradable bags to line them but had to use newspaper instead. It was gross! The council soon relented though - I imagine under the deluge of protesting phone calls like mine.

    Oh, and if you are a large family (5 or over) you have to apply for a large bin! All very Draconian and not very efficient, as there are several things they don't collect which have to be taken to recycling points.

    But we put up with it in our British way and muddle along. I think I'd almost pay for a more efficient service though. Almost.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.