Starting today, when you think about my opinion, think “garbage.” My own was picked up this morning and I feel guilty. Not about the waste but about the weight of it all.
Remember those 31 gallon aluminum cans that punctuated property lines in the 1950s? You can still get them, but I haven’t seen many in my neighborhood. Instead, I see plastic cans with tops that catch on a rim around the top. They start at 32 gallons. But as I look up and down the street I see much larger ones. I had to replace a Rubbermaid can that, at 32 gallons, came with wheels for convenience and had lasted 15 years. The bottom finally wore off from being dragged along the sidewalk.
So I bought a newer model. It holds 45 gallons of garbage and has larger wheels. I pull it to the curb every Sunday night and don’t think about it again until Monday evening when I come home and return the empty can to its sheltered shed.
But the process of selecting this new can led me to think about who would have to lift it and how difficult that would be. A 45 gallon can, filled with garbage bags, is too heavy for me to lift easily. I’m glad for the wheels. But the sanitation workers who come every Monday morning don’t have it so lucky. They have to carry the can to the truck and lift it up high enough such that the top is lower than the bottom allowing for the contents to spill out. Not just for my can, but for Ryan’s and for Vivian’s and for David’s and for Eric’s and for… well, for everyone in my neighborhood. These men spend their days lifting those cans up high enough to empty them into the compactor.
And a 45 gallon can turns out to be one of the smaller trash cans available at home supply stores. You can buy 64 gallon, even 96 gallon cans. 96 Gallons! That’s three times larger, three times heavier, than the can I bought in 1995 when I first moved to Easton.
Those sanitation workers will have to work as long as we who work with our heads, sitting at desks in air conditioned rooms. They won’t get social security benefits any sooner than you or me. Yet they do all this heavy lifting day after day, coming home with muscles melted and clothes smelling from week old mackerel.
It gets worse. I weeded the other day. Filled my old can (only 32 gallons) with the garden refuse. Even this relatively small can was then too heavy for me to lift. How do they do it?
Rain was in the forecast when I put that can out and I thought about those dutiful men and that extra weight of water. So I put an older mis-matched cover on top of the leaves and branches. Not a pretty sight, but it deflected an inch or two of water.
There are other things we can do to help out these men who relieve us of that which we remove from our homes as quickly as possible. Reasonably sized cans are one way. But there are others. When no rain is forecast, we can remove that cover so they won’t have to pry it off—house after house. Or we can loosen the cover so it rests easily on top and is just as easily removed the next morning. We can put our trash next to our neighbor’s (my own neighbor taught me this by quiet example)—saving the trash collectors a few steps and an extra stop of the truck. We can seal smelly garbage by double bagging it and we can rinse out our cans occasionally with the garden hose. And surely we can be careful not to hide broken glass or pointed or dangerous objects with the trash.
There are rules and restrictions on what sanitation workers have to pick up at our curb but I find that they always try to err on our side—taking things that they could have left behind. They work hard and they keep our community clean. They deserve some consideration and gratitude from us. At least when it comes to trash cans, bigger is not better.