I used to live in England. It isn’t where I’m from, but I’ve lived there longer than any other place in my life, so I might as well call it home. I appreciate the many ways in which the European influence has cultured the country, and enjoyed my time there.
There are, of course, some notable ways in which England is behind other countries in the world, and especially the United States. Growing up in Portland, Oregon, nearly twenty-five years ago now, I remember having several separate crates we filled each week with glass, plastic and paper. Each week, we would dutifully place these on the curb, and upon return find them empty, magically cleared by the mysterious and rarely-seen garbage men.
However, where I lived in Sheffield, curbside paper recycling has only taken hold in the past five years, and glass and other materials even more recently than that. It would be collected once a month.
I now live in New Jersey, and without going all the dubious benefits this entails, the garbage and recycling cycles have intrigued me. This stuff is collected all the time. I mean it. Household trash is collected on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Recycling is collected every two weeks on Monday. Needless to say, our family of three doesn’t come close to filling the requirements of these tailgating pickups; often we miss one or more pickups with no consequences to speak of.
What truly astonishes me, however, is our neighbors. Generally, every single garbage day, they have one (or more) garbage cans on the curb, often overflowing with trash. Same goes for recycling, so I can’t even say that they simply aren’t too green. Every day.
What are they throwing out? I can’t imagine that three days’ worth of table scraps – even for a large family – would fill a whole garbage can. Kitty litter? No cat shits that much. Do they, perhaps, cook an extra meal every night to feed the hungry kitchen bin?
Perhaps it’s all packaging from the prodigious number of toys, gadgets and other miscellany they buy every few days at Stop & Shop. If so, where do they get the money, and how can I get some? My job’s not that crappy, and even a gajillion dollars of credit card debt couldn’t really account for it.
So what’s in their garbage? Try as I might, I can’t fathom it. They are likely larger families than ours, but more mouths eat more, not trash more. Maybe they get disproportionately more junk mail than we do (which is already staggering). Perhaps I’m just unaware that we’re surrounded by the mafia, and these are simply their weekly body dumps (the black sacks the funeral home around the corner leaves on the street are decidedly suspicious).
Ultimately, there may no answer (other than to knock on their doors and politely ask, and I don’t fancy contributing to their trash). I’ll continue to notice and continue to wonder; perhaps the truth is only known to the mysterious garbagemen. What an insight into our lives they must have.