Recycling, Composting, Paying Fines

If you live in San Francisco, you have probably heard something about compulsory trash sorting.  In case you haven’t heard, trust me that sooner or later you’ll get hell for being ignorant.

In my neck of the woods, the grandly named San Francisco Department Of The Environment inspects curbside receptacles and warns us when they find things in the wrong bins.  If the problem isn’t corrected soon after, property owners are charged steep fines to compensate for the sorting that must be done after pick-up.

Although San Francisco has had this policy for a few years, I was a witness to enforcement only recently.

I live in a studio in a condo complex with a total of more than a hundred units.  Most of my neighbors are considerate and responsible, but predictably a few are not.

Management has been on top of this for a long time, and they’re even more on top of it now that city inspectors have lost patience with the mishmash they keep finding in our bins.

A few of us have looked in the bins occasionally to try to correct code violations.  Personally, I’ve flattened bulky cardboard boxes nearly every time I’ve peeked into one of these Wheeled Headaches Of Agony (WHOA).  I’ve also moved misplaced items into the correct bins since I’ve lived here.

I did a lot more of that work — on a volunteer basis — until a few years ago, while I was still renting an apartment.  It was filthy work, but thanks to various precautions I was able to keep it in perspective.

This week, I offered and got permission to do large-scale, unpaid recyclable/compostable sorting for the condo association.  This is gonna be even bigger than the work in the rental building because there are at least five times as many living units involved (more bins to monitor, but possibly fewer infractions because the rental building had a bigger proportion of don’t give-a-shit types).

It was important to ask for permission before going full-blast with this because I didn’t know if I’d be imposing on a paid worker who cleans around the building.  Never risk causing anxiety for someone who might be afraid of having his or her job phased out.  Our full-time custodian still has a truckload to do around the building, so in this case he can use all the help he can get and we’ll still need him.

It’s amazing how often someone who cares to put a pizza box into the compost bin will neglect to remove the plastic doll house table. The plastic doll house table, in case you don’t know, is that mystery item some parlors put into the center of the hot pizza.  What’s the story with those little critters, anyway?  I keep thinking the heat from the food is causing the plastic to release carcinogens.

Curbside hauling programs have specific rules, often depending on which items their contractors can accept.  In San Francisco, compostable eating utensils used to be excluded from the green bins. Now they’re okay.  However, it’s unlikely the plastic doll house tables from the pizza boxes will ever get that kind of respect. They’re trash, and it’s likely they’ll always be treated as such (Last time I checked, they were unwelcome even in the recycling bins).  It’s similar to what some adults said about me when I was a child.

Laugh if you want.  I heard the insults a long time ago, so they sting less now.

Now management and the condo board are trying harder than ever to educate residents and impress on them that a portion of their HOA dues will be wasted on fines if things aren’t done right.  We’ll see how that goes, but in the meantime I’ll be brushing up my dumpster diving skills.  I’d damn well better get a reality show contract out of this.

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