New, improved garbage collection

Even the way we collect our garbage has changed over the years

Garbage men/persons/sanitary engineers may seem an unusual the subject for a literary effort, but back in 1969, Canadian author and humorist, Harry J. Boyle, wrote a collection of musings he called Straws in the Wind. Each musing included comments on everything from pussy willows and women shoppers to garbage men.

Boyle defends the garbage men’s creed of creating as much noise as possible and sympathizes with their need for recognition along with the high profile community service of firemen and police, to wit: “The wispy trails of more mature refuse on the street give the citizen a full measure of awareness of the men who pick up and haul away.”

Granted, today’s complicated garbage day displays and combos do not allow quite the fortissimo or olfactory renditions of years past, but the soup cans still clatter and the gears still grind. Like all music, the compositions change with the age.

Today’s garbage collection is an activity regimented and controlled by the lower levels of government, and every container of waste has its day and roadside requirements. It was not always thus.

Early days in northern Ontario were a far cry … Each household had some very large container in the back yard which held a homogenized mixture of all household refuse.

The one I remember was a grey galvanized monster — from childish recollections, at least four feet high, about three feet in diameter, with a conical lid and one handle straddling the peak. The garbage men of the day were either particularly strong or suffered chronic back and shoulder pain.

The collector himself was some private entrepreneur with maybe a one-ton truck sporting wavering wooden sides and rear. He may or may not have had a calendar; the ‘monster’s’ contents were often basted with juices well simmered in the July sun. Once the week’s (month’s?) garbage was tilted into the truck, the vehicle drove off leaving behind an odious brown trail to its next stop.

Enter composting and recycling onto the varied stages of garbage collecting.

Back in the good old days when glass was one of the early recyclable products, we were first faced with the chore of removing all labels. But all glass was not considered equal. I recall certain frosted gin bottles — rejected, and left at the curb to advertise my sins.

It was a relief when “bottles’ rights” won their case against frosted glass discrimination. But here we are again with all glass being denied a seat anywhere on the recycle bus.

What a boon to the refuse receptacle manufacturers was the “Beans to Bones” set up — bright, shiny, wheeled green bins and subtly coloured counter food waste catchers. All these “… a mandatory service for single family … residences” but denied to apartment and condo dwellers. More discrimination against the poor garbage and its householders.

Luckily there is a wheeled and pulling gizmo that can be attached to those weighty blue boxes, because a yellow bag with two weeks worth of newspapers, flyers galore, magazines, and Cheerios boxes, plus cans and plastics beside it in the box add up to several pounds. In an area with the country’s oldest population it makes sense for people to roll their boxes to the curb rather than carry them with weak backs and a tin hip or two.

But why, I ask you, do those pretty yellow bags often disappear along with the blue box of recycle items? Three times now, my yellow bag appears to have accompanied everything else into the trucks’ maws, never to be seen again at my curb. If everything in the blue box can be dumped together and at the same time, why are we instructed to keep the stuff separate in the first place?

Ah, the vagaries of garbage and its destination.


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