Friday, September 13, 2013

Something stinky, Part 3: The loony bin

What is this a picture of?  And don't say "A lawn that needs to be edged" because I already know that much.
HINT:  Recall the old children's teaser where someone would hold up a blank piece of paper and ask,
"What is this a picture of?" 
And the viewer would reply, "Nothing."
"No, it's actually a picture of a cow eating grass."
"But where is the grass?"
"The cow ate it."
"And where is the cow?"
"Well, no use hanging around if all the grass is gone, so the cow left."
This is actually a picture of where my kitchen recycle bin should have been found following this week's recycle pick-up. 

"But where is your empty bin?"
"The trash crew recycled it." 

*Sigh*.  The blue bins are too large to fit on the floor of my kitchen pantry (which is really just a tiny closet).  Therefore, I purchased a separate smaller plastic bin which exactly fit the available space.  If I have a large quantity of recyclables, I put them out in my custom-designed rolly bin.  But if I just have a few items to recycle, I sometimes just place the smaller kitchen bin at the curb for emptying.

But as I explained in this post back in March, the Republic Waste crews seem to spend their time inventing brand new ways of p*ssing us off.  I should have known that they would have taken a perfectly functional clean plastic collection bin and simply tossed it into the truck along with its contents.  Because, after all, returning that bin to the curb might have involved them taking one or two extra steps, actually lifting one foot and placing it in front of the other, all that.  Easier just to dispose of a perfectly good homeowner's bin.

But now there's a new tactical development in the League City War On Trash, and I'm not really sure that I like it.  Let me talk about that next.

On August 31, there was a neighborhood email blast which described how Centerpointe might be chosen for a pilot study testing automated trash pick-up. 
This is the kind of scheme that I believe the City is talking about.  There's a lift arm on the truck which grabs and empties the cart.   
It sounds good in theory, but it's quite likely to be similar to what I lived with during my seven years as a City of Houston homeowner, which wasn't so great in practice.  The main issue is that the bins distributed under these types of schemes are almost always the 96-gallon varieties, which are way, way too large for our purposes...
...because most homeowners put out a twice-weekly amount of trash roughly comparable to this miniscule amount.  Why would you need a 96-gallon bin for a 7-gallon disposal event?

Photo from this post in which I began describing what I perceive as significant waste (pun intended) and inefficiency in the new League City trash contract.
A 96-gallon trash can is designed for five or more people - under a WEEKLY pick-up scheme.  So for those of us who have extremely wasteful twice-per-week pick-up, that 96-gallon can would be expected to accommodate the needs of ten people.  How many Centerpointe households contain ten people?!

Screengrabbed from this site
In a March post called "Trash Transformation", I had already described how I had downsized my own original 96-gallon trash rolly bin because the danged thing is just too large.
That's my original 96-gallon grey one on the left, and my twenty dollar replacement can on the right.  I proceeded to use the older 96-gallon can for mulch storage. 
Trash can size turns out to be surprisingly important in Centerpointe for a number of reasons:
  1. Many of us have such tiny back yards that we literally have trouble storing one, let alone two large cans without having them getting in the way of something else.  In the photo above, you see my 96-gallon can and my DIY-recycle rolly side by side on the concrete pad we have behind our garage.  The recycle rolly is intentionally smaller because I literally cannot store two 96-gallon cans side by side here.  There's no room.  The 96-gallon is right up against the door frame, because it has to be. 
  2. Many of us have only five-foot building setbacks.  My 96-gallon trash can is just a hair under three feet thick.  Do the math on this one: it is a genuine pain in the a** to wrangle a three-foot can through a five-foot side yard.  Especially because...
  3. ... our side yards have been strongly sloped to achieve the necessary lot drainage in such a narrow corridor.  Therefore, when a person is trying to wrestle a large can either into our out of our side yards, the tip-over rate is close to 100%.  This is extremely frustrating and my husband has been forced to listen to no small quantity of bitching and moaning from me about how we need to fix it, but the solutions we've come up with are neither easy nor cheap (we can't just put a concrete walkway because both of our miserable five-foot side yards are encumbered by buried utilities). 
In sum, if you have ever wondered why so many Centerpointers do this...
One tiny bag set out sans trash can. you have your answer:  Because those homeowners would end up in the loony (trash) bin if they spent their time fighting space bottlenecks to get large cans back and forth between the curb and their side yards. 

So here's my prediction if we go to automated collection involving dual 96-gallon trash and recycling cans: 

You're going to see a lot more cans left in front of peoples' houses where our ordinances prohibit them from remaining.  What's going to happen is that people are going to roll their empty cans up the driveway as far as their garage, but then they'll say to themselves, "Ugh, moving this massive thing is such a hassle and the mosquitoes are horrible right now, so I'll do the rest later."  But then "later" never happens and the cans continue to sit out in front of the house (she said, as one of the guilty homeowners who speaks from abundant personal experience). 

There is a potential workaround for this predicament:

The 50% of you Centerpointe folks who prefer the no-can-wrangling hassle-free method of simply depositing your plastic bags at the curb?  Ask your neighbor if you can simply add your bags to their can.  Trade off with your neighbor on which one of you will put out a trash can and which will put out a recycle cart, such that you can reciprocally add to each others' cans while cutting your respective work loads in half. 

Of course, that strategy would necessitate you actually talking with your neighbor, which might be traumatic for folks with fixed ideas about what life in suburbia is supposed to consist of, but trust me - it's a fully-survivable experience.  You might even (gulp) enjoy it. 

If we end up with the 96-gallon carts, hell, probably every five neighbors could collaborate and cut their cumulative work load even further, there's so much excess capacity in those things. 

But whatever choice you make, don't opt to put your own small recycle bin by the curb, because it will surely disappear.
Here's that famous portrait of the cow eating grass.  A veritable masterpiece, wouldn't you agree? 

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