Talking trash in Seattle

As I previously have pointed out, before becoming New To Seattle, I was warned the complex trash recycling rules would drive me nuts. This has proven to be largely true, but partly for an unexpected reason: Some of the people working in the system don’t have the greatest grasp on them, either.

This was hammered home during August when I happened to be outside my house on trash pick-up day as a truck came by and its operator dumped into his vehicle my “garbage” container. That’s the catch-all bin for most of the stuff that doesn’t go into the recycling or yard/food containers.  I had put into garbage the many empty clear plastic prescription vials generated by our dog’s final illness, which I also have written about.

The driver–a very nice man–spotted me and said kindly all those clear vials should have gone into the recycling bin. “No plastic of any kind goes into garbage,” he said. Fine by me, I said, except that seemed to contradict what I had seen a day earlier when I consulted the city’s official web site. (You can look at the relevant language by clicking here and decide who’s right.)

“Don’t worry,” he said. “The rules are confusing. I don’t understand them, either.”

Terrific! In Seattle one needs an engineering or English degree to fully comprehend trash pick-up rules. So maybe it wasn’t all that surprising in July when a man’s torso was found on the conveyor belt at a Seattle recycling plant.

Clearly, Seattle has one of the country’s most developed and elaborate recycling systems, managing to divert more than half of all the trash collected. Certainly, it’s part of the civic fabric, a shared glue that reminds me from my days living in the Middle East of the way the Israel Defense Force unites Israelis.

The Seattle Mariners even has a “recycling mascot” named Captain Plastic. Not exactly the Philly Phanatic. It’s been written that when unhappy fans toss debris at the Mariners–probably often, since the team this season has Major League Baseball’s fifth-worst record–the players instinctively pick up the trash and start sorting for recycling.

I assume this is a joke.

But any resulting confusion would be understandable. The recycling rules are so difficult that Seattle trash collectors are given a flyer to hand out to offenders, with 32 boxes that could be checked. I have reproduced it above. This may be the world’s only official government warning form with the printed headline, “Oops!”

To me,  it’s a recognition that the powers-that-be, in this case Seattle Public Utilities, realize in some way the communication shortcomings they hath wrought. It’s nuts all around.

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Talking trash in Seattle — 9 Comments

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  7. Does Joseph Heller work for SPU?
    “Prescription medicine vials are not recyclable – the plastic is too brittle. Please discard the clear-plastic vials as garbage. Pill bottles such as aspirin or vitamin bottles are recyclable.”
    I’m still searching for instructions about those brittle ORANGE plastic prescription drug vials.

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