Slamming the Front Door on Garbage


I marveled when I first saw the color-coded bins on wheels the city so graciously provided to store and transport my trash. I watched with awe as a garbage truck with a robot arm picked one up and emptied a whole week’s worth of our family’s garbage with ease.

I’m not one of those back-to-nature women who refuse to wear pantyhose because anything modern and easy has to be wrong. I welcome technological advances, especially the ones that make me think I might someday realize my dream of living in a Judy Jetson push-button world.

But there is a problem. It turns out these modern containers have not rocketed me into the future. They have actually sent me back in time, until I feel like a pioneer woman trying to utilize every resource.


It used to be the only trash I had to work to keep out of our Thousand Oaks home was what came in over the Internet, through the cable TV or out of the mouth of an appliance repairman.

These rolling bins with their limited capacity have made me aware of a constant stream of garbage flooding into my house. There was a time when an extra heavy trash week required nothing more than dragging out an extra can. Now, I have a limited number of cubic inches. No such thing as pulling out the spare receptacle.

This has forced me to reevaluate my life, my friends, and everyone around me in terms of how they contribute to my waste problem. I no longer care whether they have nice dispositions, or stimulating conversation. Do they come with trash attached, or are they trash-friendly? That is all I want to know.

Take our sweet mail carrier, with whom for years I have had a wonderful smile-and-wave relationship. Things have changed. If I do like I used to do--go out and get the mail and put it directly into the recycle bin before going back in the house--my gray bin would be so full I couldn’t stuff anything else into it.

So I bring a pen to the mailbox, take only the mail I want, write “Return to Sender” on the rest and put it back in the box. I’m not sure if there is a connection, but my mail carrier is not smiling when he waves anymore.

Another major source of throwaway items comes from the schools. When my oldest child started kindergarten, she would come home with dozens of colored papers stapled together. I would go through each page, write important dates on my calendar and file according to topic. Now, with four kids going through the public school system, it’s pretty much got to the point where I give the stuff a quick glance and throw it all away. Reams of paper a week inviting my children to join sports or service clubs taking up precious trash space had to be eliminated.


So, I made a rule. All this must now stay at school. My kids now surreptitiously slip the stacks of papers into the school’s own bins before they leave campus.

When I fill the minivan’s tank with gas I no longer just stand there and whimper as the dollar amount spins skyward. I spend that time cleaning out the van and dumping the trash into the can by the pumps.

We no longer pick up fast food and bring it home. We eat it at the “restaurant” where the trash cans very politely say, “Thank You.”

Maybe it’s just my luck but every time I shop at Costco they pack my purchases into a box labeled with an alcoholic beverage. Usually some kind of hard liquor. I was always kind of embarrassed about putting those boxes out beside the trash every week anyway because my neighbors could have assumed I bought whiskey by the case, and since I never have any parties it would appear I had a serious problem. Now I keep the box and make Costco reuse it every time I go back.

Other large boxes that sneak into my home holding electronic equipment or other new appliances are quickly filled with items we no longer need and donated to a charity. Nonprofit thrift stores are so glad to get what is inside they don’t even notice I have unloaded a box on them.

I think my neighbors have also been affected by the new trash service. I’ve noticed more of them are going in for the jungle landscaping look. Gardeners no longer trim until the yard is done. They stop when the green bin gets full.


I may have to add mulching to my list of talents. I have already learned to tie bread bags into rugs, make hourglasses out of old catsup bottles and insulation out of egg cartons.

My nieces have no doubt been thrilled with one of my waste-not-pay-not creations. I found old shampoo bottles can be turned into nifty fashion dolls that have a figure that would never make a girl feel ashamed of her own body.

These full-figured dolls, along with action figures made out of dog-food cans and milk jug patio furniture, have all enhanced my life as I pay penance for years of landfill-clogging disposal habits without ever thinking, “What else could I do with this garbage besides throw it away?”

Needham is a free-lance writer.