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Getting recycling schedule right is half the bottle


Curbside recycling recently arrived in my Baltimore County neighborhood and I guess things are going smoothly, if you don't count all the people hauling stuff out to the curb and wailing: "What pickup is this -- bottles and cans, right? What? It's newspapers? Dammit, I told her it was newspapers . . ."

Yeah, it seems some of us are having a slight problem memorizing the new collection schedule.

And since the new collection schedule seems designed for a second-grader to understand, this offers stark new evidence that the human brain continues to grow smaller and is now approximately the size of a pistachio. Not that anyone in the medical community (or the government) will admit to this, of course.

But maybe you think I'm exaggerating about the simplicity of this schedule. If so, here, verbatim, is the collection schedule for my neighborhood, according to the little chart hanging from my refrigerator:

Tuesdays -- Trash.

Every other Wednesday -- Grass and leaves.

Thursdays -- Bottles and cans one week, mixed paper the next.

Sounds simple enough, right? There's even a nifty alliterative quality to "Tuesdays -- Trash" that should help all but the biggest pinheads remember at least one of the pickups.

Nevertheless, to some people, following all this is apparently like following the Amtrak schedule for the Eastern Seaboard.

I had a neighbor come up to me the other night as I was hauling trash out to the curb.

"Tomorrow's bottles and cans, right?" he said.

"Trash," I said. "Tuesday. See, that's how you remember -- they both start with 't.' "

"Hey-y-y-y! That's pretty good!" he said.

Look, I'm not the brightest guy in the world. But I walked away rTC from that conversation feeling like Jonas Salk.

Another problem we're finding is that recycling is not quite as convenient as the old system of trash pickup, which could be summed up like this: Unless you had a corpse resting across your garbage cans, the garbage man would basically haul away everything you left out by the curb.

Now, with recycling, the homeowner actually has to do a little work separating the recyclable materials. And we homeowners don't like to hear about work.

(I know, I know -- what kind of a country do we live in where you can't even stuff a garbage can with crab shells, a dog carcass, a half-dozen empty cans of Quaker State 10W40 and 200 pounds of old refrigerator parts, and have it hauled away anymore?

(What is this, North Korea?)

In any event, as a closet tree-hugger and Save-the-Planeteer myself, I'm glad recycling is here. I do have one teensy-weensy complaint: Now that I have to save all these recyclable materials, my house looks like the set of "Sanford and Son."

We have newspapers stacked three feet high in the laundry room. We have bottles stored on one side of the mud room. We have cans stored on the other side of the mud room. We have plastic stored in another room.

When you walk into my place, you figure some eccentric collector lives there, and that you're liable to find a room filled with, oh, 200,000 buttons or something.

I don't know . . . does it sound like I'm whining? I don't mean to. Look, I knew this whole thing wasn't going to be easy when I received a booklet from the county titled "How To Be A 'One and One' Recycler." It's filled with drawings of smiling tin cans, grinning milk bottles, laughing newspapers, etc., all urging me to do my part to help the environment.

Here I am, 43 years old, a man who gets very little respect as it is. To be lectured to ("Go Beyond Recycling!") by little cartoon recyclables just confirms what I've always suspected: that life from here on in will be nasty, brutish and humiliating.

The booklet also features a bunch of dopey "Frequently Asked" questions, such as: "Why must I put my trash and recyclables out the night before my collection day?"

The tone is not unlike that of many of the textbooks I had in Catholic school ("Q: What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven? A: To gain the happiness of heaven, we must know, love and serve God in this world.")

But instead of the firm rhetoric of my Jesuit teachers ("You must put your trash and recyclables out the night before collection day, or I'll rap you across the shins with this yardstick") the booklet gives some namby-pamby answer about collections *T taking place earlier in the morning and blah, blah, blah.

Today they're picking up mixed paper in my neighborhood, if you're interested.

Although I don't see why you would be.

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