Trash etiquette? Is there such a thing? Having lived for quite a few years in a midwestern city, I can assure you that there certainly is. It was the power scooter/wheelchair that made me think of it.
We throw objects away all the time. Most of the time, the stuff we pitch would never be of interest to anyone else. Who would want old food wrappers or empty jars or cans? But we all know about the other stuff – things that are not worth the effort of trying to sell, but that might be of use to someone. This is the stuff that is the subject of some rules.
Most of us have heard the term “dumpster diving.” I have never gone dumpster diving, and do not plan on starting. I have, however, occasionally taken other people’s trash. It is these rules of etiquette that makes it all work. The first example I can think of is the vacuum cleaner.
When I was in law school, three roommates and I lived in a 4 bedroom townhouse apartment. These were cheaply built places that were constructed with students in mind. The complex was built around an oval street – Green Ash Court. I don’t know why they called it that, as I don’t recall any ash trees there. Although I guess the buildings were green and several of us smoked in those years. But I digress.
In the central island of Green Ash Court was the trash dumpster, where we would throw our bags of refuse for pickup. One evening I saw something sitting right outside of the fence that surrounded the dumpster. It was an old vacuum cleaner. Eureka! (sorry) We had no vacuum but did have some grungy carpets that cried out for one. The placement of the vacuum clearly signified that it had been abandoned, but by someone who had hope that perhaps someone else could use it. Had it been hopeless, trash etiquette would have dictate that it go into the dumpster instead of sitting on the ground outside of it.
I walked over, looked it over, and decided that it was worth a closer look. I took it home. It was really old, one of those upright sweepers that weighed a ton and had a permanent cloth bag. Its problem was that the belt for the beater bar was missing. Surely, I thought, this would be an easy fix. A local vacuum shop fixed me right up with a new rubber belt. While I was there I bought a new bulb for the headlight. Doesn’t every good vacuum need a headlight?
That old Eureka vacuum served me until I got married. Marianne had, of course, higher standards. Her excuse was that the old Eureka had no attachments, but I am pretty sure that she had no interest in wrestling with a vacuum sold during the Truman Administration. After she bought a new one, I did what the prior owner had done – I put it out at the curb separate from the trash can. I think someone took it. Who knows, maybe it is still working.
I have given away several things like this. A couple of old lawnmowers, the occasional piece of old furniture, and even a swingset. Each time the item has gone out to the curb near the trash cans, and each time it has been picked up by someone with either a need for the item or by someone with an intent to resell it.
Usually, I have put a sign on the item, something like “works” or “free”. Etiquette says this isn’t really necessary when something sits next to trash cans, but it is helpful to confirm the item’s condition or status in case there is ambiguity.
Ambiguity can a problem, like when I recently saw the neighbor’s power scooter/wheelchair. I’m not sure what you call it – it has four small wheels and a comfy-looking upholstered seat. It spent two or three days sitting at the end of someone’s driveway. But what was it there for?
I don’t know the person, but I have seen an older woman who lives there and who appears to regularly use such a device. Is this an old one that is getting pitched? It did not go out with trash cans and there is no sign, so it was unclear.
I had no need or desire for such a thing, so It didn’t really matter to me what happens to it, but I wondered “Who would take such a thing if it is not absolutely clear that it has been abandoned?” Is this a test for cold-heartedness? Is there a camera there to trap unwary evildoers into stealing some handicapped person’s way of getting around? Or is it being given away to anyone who might need it? A sign would have been helpful here.
After about three days, the scooter-chair disappeared. I wondered if maybe someone with a more aggressive approach to curb-shopping than mine (or someone with a total lack of conscience) came along. Or maybe the owner took it back inside. It turned out to be the second one, because after a couple of weeks it was out there again – but this time it was near the trash can.
I don’t know if anyone adopted it before the garbage truck got there (it was “heavy trash week” which comes once a month where I live) but it was good to know that my sense of trash etiquette was affirmed.
Last week’s COAL article on Curbside Classic was about the 1963 Cadillac Fleetwood that I should never have bought but was extremely satisfying – when it was not costing me money.