No sooner do we put the trash and recyclables out, and there they are – The Bottle People, picking through the bins. I can put the garbage at the curb, go in the house and walk out ten minutes later, only to find that the trash has been sorted through and all the refund bottles are gone.
There is fierce competition out there among the pickers. There is the man with the wheeled, wire laundry basket who makes serious business of sorting through the trash as he takes his time with each item. There is the lady on the bicycle pulling the cart, who will show up in the dark, aim her bike’s headlight towards the “goods” and then fervently dig through everything. There are those who take it to an even higher place, driving right up next to the pails to quickly toss the refundable bottles and cans into their cars. Sometimes they come as a team, so one drives while the other collects.
They often make a mess and leave a mess. Some of them drop the non-refundable plastic containers they don’t want outside the bin and leave them on the lawn or in the road, or – and this is really annoying – when they are finished they leave the bin turned around so the recycling logo is not showing. Of course this happens at night when you don’t know it. In the morning, in what I always imagine is a power moment of civil service spite, sometimes the trash collectors (sanitation engineers) won’t pick up the stuff when they come by with the truck, because technically, they can’t see the logo and so technically, they are not recyclable (even though they can see it is clearly bottles and cans in the bin, and they know that logo sticker is on the other side). So then we are stuck with the stuff yet another week because of the trash pickers.
I have tried to help the people along that make a business of collecting refundables for cash, especially since I am not bringing them to the local supermarket myself to get the deposit back…..at this point it’s not worth the gas to drive over there to do that for the small amount we have. I also realize these people are doing it because they must need to. Given this, I have tried to make it as easy as possible for them by separating the cash bottles out neatly so they don’t have to dig through the bins and cans – even going so far as to put them in their own little six-pack cartons and placing them out in front of all the other trash. This way they can clearly see them from the road and just scoop them up, avoiding extra work and allowing them to move quickly on.
Despite my best efforts, I have had two confrontations with the Bottle People. One was with the lady on the bicycle, who zoomed up on me in the dark while I was putting the trash out one night. She actually shined a flashlight right in my face and then started digging frantically through the pails even as I was dragging the pails out to the curb, all the while muttering and babbling. I felt a bit invaded, as I couldn’t even put out my own garbage out without being confronted. But I helped her along, handing her everything refundable. I had to assure her a couple of times that she had gotten all of it, that there was no more and that she could stop now, until she finally moved on. That had been about the most eventful contact, until I encountered one picker that put me over the edge.
As I was dragging the second can out to the street late one Sunday afternoon, a woman pulled up in her SUV, took the deposit bottles I had set aside out of the little cardboard six-pack box and threw the box out into the street. Right in front of me. I just had to say something. I said “Hi, excuse me. I leave these bottles out for whoever wants them, but I would appreciate it if you are going to take them, to take the whole box.” And then she turned around and starting arguing with me, telling me how she fit them a certain way into her car so the box doesn’t work for her, and how I should just deal with the box myself. She was actually yelling.
Well, this really made me mad. Bad enough I feel violated that the Bottle People are on top of you like jackals the moment you appear with your garbage pails, but the rudeness really was not necessary. Maybe I was having a bit of a bad day myself, and at that point I just snapped. I said “You know, there are plenty of other people who want these bottles and I think I will just save them for someone else, like that nice old man with the wire cart.” Then I picked up the other box with the rest of our deposit bottles and began to walk back up our driveway with them.
She actually screamed! She began chasing me! She started yelling about how she wanted those bottles, how she had to have those bottles, how once upon a time she used to be a nurse!!!! (If that was true, I could see why she was no longer one). At that point, it finally dawned on me that she was Not Well. That she was actually kind of Unstable. And suddenly I stopped dead in my tracks. What. Are. You. Doing???? Here I am, trying to make a point by arguing with a crazy person over deposit bottles worth about two dollars? I turned around to her. I handed her the box and asked her to please, if there is any part she doesn’t want, in the future to just please help me out and leave it in the trash can and not the road. She sniffed at me, said “So that’s settled then! We have come to an Understanding!” Then she placed the bottles into a sectioned bin in the back of her SUV, dropped the empty cardboard container by the side of the road and drove away.
I now am trying to remedy the situation further by leaving the bottles out in small plastic grocery bags, which will facilitate the pickers with loading them into their carts or cars. I even try to leave them on the curb the day before, so they will eventually know that there is nothing refundable left in our bins. However, they still leave a mess most weeks.
There are all types out there in this urban Serengeti.