‘Twas the day after Christmas, when all through the flat
Not a box lay unopened, all gifts were unwrapped;
Shiny paper and ribbons tossed away without care
In hopes they would soon disappear in the air;
New gadgets were piled ‘round ‘bout on the floor;
Fitbits and iPads and Echos galore;
And my dog on its blanket, and I with hot tea,
Had just settled down to watch some TV,
When out by the trash bins there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Pulled up the blinds and threw up the sash.
The bright winter sun lit the alley below
Quite setting the three little waste bins aglow.
When what did my wondering eyes did I see
But a big garbage truck and a pile of debris,
With one serious driver picking up a soup can,
I knew in a moment he must be the garbage man.
More boxes and bags he threw into his truck,
And he sighed as he grabbed some Styrofoam to chuck,
“Now c’mon why is this place such a mess?
This packaging! This plastic wrap! It’s quite an excess!
There is food in the trash! There’s a mattress on the wall!
What does everyone think happens to it all?”
As he spoke I thought of my new toys on the floor,
And the joy unwrapping them had brought me before,
So I shouted at him, “Hey! What would you have us do?
I’m sure your bins are full of trash today too!”
He stopped and turned and looked at me with a smile,
“Why no one has asked me that in quite a while.
If it was just one day, this mess wouldn’t be any trouble,
But imagine this every day, then double and double.
Every day cardboard boxes resting right over here.
Every day straws, and good food and empty cans of beer.
A bundle one day is not a problem to sack,
But Christmas every day is breaking my back.
So, since you asked, let me give you a few tips
On how to reduce all this trash and come to some grips.”
At this, he popped open my little blue bin
And pulled out some items shaking his head with chagrin.
“This water bottle – so plastic, so unnecessary!
Tap water’s just fine – filter it if you’re wary.
See these to-go bags, forks, unused sauces and things?
It’s easy — say, ‘no thanks’ when you’re ordering.
And this!” He said almost beginning to shout.
“Don’t buy produce in plastic! Please cut it out!
An orange, for example, stays safe in its peel
It doesn’t need to be re-packaged within a plastic seal!”
I laughed when he said this. He’s right, it’s quite strange,
Reducing unnecessary trash should be easy to change.
But what about the stuff I do use every day?
When it breaks or gets empty shouldn’t I throw it away?
I decided to ask my knowledgeable new friend,
“What about useful things that have come to an end?”
He smiled again, closing the bin with a thump,
“You mean, razors and pens and that empty soap pump?
Well, you know you can fill a pen with more ink,
And put a reusable blade near your bathroom sink.
It takes a little practice and then you’ll see
Just how wonderful it is to live life more simply.”
And at that he stopped talking and went straight to his work,
Emptied the three bins; then turned with a jerk,
And laying a finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, into his trash truck he rose;
He sprang to his seat, gave his engine a start,
And without a wave or a bye, I watched him depart.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight –
“Happy Holidays San Francisco, I know you’ll make it all right!”
A question from a reader
Where does one put paper coffee cups, which, I understand, are lined with plastic to prevent
leakage? – Steve Lawrence
A strong cup of morning coffee is great for clearing the head, but choosing a bin to toss the to-
go cup isn’t as clear. The black bin in coffee shops is often filled with empty cups. Many San
Franciscans also assume cups should be composted because they’re soiled paper.
The correct answer is the blue bin. Last year, Recology, The City’s recycling provider, and the
Department of Environment, determined that recycling paper cups, with the sleeve and plastic
lid, is the best way to dispose of the item. Please just make sure they’re empty.
Of course, avoiding disposable items is always the best option. Almost all coffee shops,
including Peet’s and Starbucks, offer mugs for people who want to sip their coffee there. It’s
also easy to pack a thermos when you leave the house. Sometimes you can get discounts for
bringing your own reusable items.
Got more sorting questions? I’ve got answers. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest columnist. Check her out at robynpurchia.com