It appears that my recycling tub has been recycled

March 04, 2006|By ROB KASPER

What do you do when your recycling tub gets trashed? That happened to me last week when, as best I can figure, my light blue 18-gallon tub was picked up by a curbside collection crew and, along with old newspapers inside it, was sent to recycling heaven.

Usually the tub came back empty. This day it did not come back at all. It must have been its time. I know this is a small matter. But since I can't control the big things in life - war, taxes, the NFL labor agreement - I concentrate on the little stuff, such as putting the right kind of refuse out in the alley on the correct collection days.

When my tub went missing, one of my first thoughts was: "They can't take that. It's Friday, a paper day!"

But the city truck was gone from the alley, and so was the tub, a five-year-old, slightly battered piece of household equipment that I had grown attached to.

I liked it for several reasons, a main one being that it was easy to dump newspapers in. Our household, as every right-thinking American household should, welcomes newspapers. To keep the litter level down, periodic sweeps are made through the residence, in which old papers are scooped up and deposited in a newspaper dumping ground, in this case the basement. There they wait for "paper day," the joyful, twice-a-month event when crews from the solid-waste division of Baltimore's Department of Public Works, guys who work the alley with an almost balletic precision, carry them off to begin a new life.

I have experimented with a variety of vessels that corral old newspapers. Paper bags stuffed with newspapers tend, in my experience, to fall apart when stressed. While this is a condition I can identify with, it is irritating. Cardboard boxes don't quite measure up. They are too small to handle the backlog of two weeks' worth of news.

The carrier of choice for me has been the 18-gallon tub, a Rubbermaid Roughneck. Its wide rectangular shape made dumping newspapers easy. Equally important, the tub's construction makes it simple to paw through the collection of old newspapers, looking for that one edition that should have been saved. Pawing through the old newspaper pile is a fact of recycling life.

Finally, this tub has strong handles - a big plus when you must lug a load of two weeks' worth of spent wisdom from the basement to the curb. The only drawback of the tub, until recently, was fetching it after it had delivered the goods.

Over the years my trash guys and I had, in my mind, developed a certain rhythm, a dance of discarded items. On paper days, the second and fourth Fridays of the month, their green truck would roll down the alley and the guys in the crew would empty the contents of my tub in their truck and then toss the container back in the general direction of my house.

I would retrieve it. Some mornings I would recover it as I headed off to work. Other days I would not fetch it until the evening, after both of us had been bounced around by the world.

Being reunited with my tub was a happy municipal moment. It made me feel that progress was been made, that my taxes were being put to proper use, that I was being a good citizen. These sentiments might not have been true, but they were comforting.

The other morning, all the elements of the recycling routine unfolded as expected - except the finale. The tub was not waiting for me to reclaim it. Jarred, I searched up and down the alley and in my neighbors' yards. It was gone. I did not know for certain that it had ended up in the belly of the recycling truck, tossed there perhaps by a new guy on the route. But that was the explanation that made the most sense to me. It also gave me the most comfort. It would have been a fitting end.

Days later I made my way over to the neighborhood hardware store, a source of solace for many a man, and bought a new tub. I also purchased a stencil set and some paint. My plan was to stencil a message on the sides of the new tub that would prevent its untimely departure.

I couldn't figure out what the message should be. I called Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works, to ask for his suggestions for my tub-side missive. He thought a simple "Don't Take" would get the job done. (He also passed along the recycling news that Baltimore City residents no longer had to stuff their bottles, cans and plastic containers into blue bags. Clear bags, or any bag marked as containing recycling material, will be carried away, he said.)

I got additional insights on recycling-bin decoration by looking at the Web sites of Baltimore's suburban counties. In Anne Arundel County, an "X" marks your container as a recycling vessel. In Howard County, a fresh shipment of curbside recycling bins, in a tasteful blue color, had arrived and were selling at $5 each.

My new tub was also a tasteful shade of blue, and that gave me an idea. I could stencil my initials, in antique gold paint, on my recycling tub. It might look classy, like a monogram on a shirt. But I am not sure what kind of message it would send to the trash guys, my partners in the recycling dance.

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