Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Let's talk trash

Just in time for Earth Day: A garbage strike and a garbage-stuffed whale.

By Donna_Freedman Apr 23, 2010 12:06PM
A gray whale found dead on a West Seattle beach had ingested “a surprising amount of human debris,” according to an Associated Press story. Among other things nestled in the cetacean’s innards: more than 20 plastic bags, a pair of sweatpants, small towels, surgical gloves, duct tape, pieces of plastic and a golf ball.

In other news: Union garbage haulers agreed to return to work after a two-day strike. There’s still no contract but at least the two sides are talking again. Or will be, come Monday.

I sure am glad those trucks are rolling once more.  The apartment building’s Dumpster is right under my window.

As for the whale’s stomach contents, all I can say is it doesn’t surprise me. We humans are a trashy bunch.

When I took out my own trash this week, I noticed once again that some people don’t like to follow rules. They’d thrown recyclables into the Dumpster and garbage into the recycle bin. They’d tossed out large boxes without flattening them first, which meant that just a few cartons took up more than half the available space.

Mostly, I was struck by the sheer amount of garbage that a 21-unit apartment building can generate. And not all of it is strictly necessary.

What a waste

For example, my neighbors throw away a ton of single-serving water bottles. Faucet-mounted or pitcher-type water filters would do away with the need to buy -- and toss -- pallets of plastic bottles every week. Filtered water would almost certainly be cheaper, too.

The bins inevitably overflow with fast-food containers. (Literally, at times, to the delight of the local crows. They love cold french fries and rock-hard pizza crusts.) Despite what this MSN Money article says, I’m not convinced that eating out can be cheaper than dining in. Given that most of my neighbors are decidedly working class, I’m amazed that they can afford to let someone else do the cooking.
The Dumpster is also where unwanted household items go to die. Until recently I was the apartment building manager. Among the items I’ve scavenged or had to rearrange to fit more neatly into the bin: a halogen floor lamp, picture frames, candles, books, a Seattle-themed Monopoly game, dishes, canned goods, buckets, videos, a computer mouse, bookcases, a freestanding mirror, comforters, towels, clothes hangers, cleaning supplies and an enormous aquarium.

Plenty of those items seemed barely to have been used at all; a few were still in the shrink-wrap. Their owners just didn’t want them anymore and couldn’t find time (or couldn’t be bothered) to take them to a charity thrift shop. What a shame.

What a waste.

Why should I care?

I’m no longer contractually required to deal with the trash, but I still make a stab at it. I pull out cardboard boxes and stomp those suckers flat. I put pizza boxes into the food waste bin. If I see recyclables in the Dumpster that I can get at, I’ll pull them out; sometimes I go indoors and get the Gopher to extend my reach.

Although there are two recycle bins, the one closest to the back door gets most of the action. Frequently it’s overfilled to the point that the lid won’t close. When this happens I’ll move some of the items to the other bin. Why is that so hard for people to figure out on their own?
More to the point, why do I do this?

Well, somebody has to. I’ve seen junk mail and packing peanuts floating down the alley, and I know that human food is not good for crows.

Part of me is irritated that some people just don’t give a rip. They know somebody will clean up after them.

And if nobody did? Well, they probably wouldn’t give a rip about that, either.

Save some green with green behavior

Think about the garbage you generate. Think about how you could reduce it. The problem with landfills is that sooner or later we’re going to run out of places to dig.

If you don’t care about the environment, look at it in practical terms: You’ll save yourself some cash that way.

Less garbage means fewer garbage bags and maybe a lower trash-hauling rate. It also could mean less money spent on takeout cartons and fast-food wrappers, or on stuff that you wind up throwing out after only one use.

Seriously: If you can’t drink the local water, consider running it through a filter. That dead whale didn’t have any water bottles in its stomach, but the next one probably will.

Related reading
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.