When we first got to Arizona it was shocking to see people toss empty soda cans into the garbage. Coming from Connecticut, the cultural attitude toward trash here seems quite unconcerned. There is no 5¢ deposit here for cans so there is not much initiative to recycle them.
Connecticut is a small state tightly packed and it seemed to be the policy of each small town to do everything legally possible to not take your garbage. It’s not easy to legally dump stuff in New England. We did “dump runs” for people back in Connecticut (a fun and interesting facet of the cleaning business), but the stressy part was taking the stuff to the dump. We couldn’t go to the town dump of the owner’s trash because they won’t let you in without a sticker…and if you go back to your own town dump, they want to know where the stuff is coming from. Same with leaves and brush…if we raked a lawn for a customer in another town, and had to go dump the truck bed a couple of times, it was always an ordeal. Recycling, proof of town residency, and gratitude that they’ll condescend to take your lowly garbage was all strictly enforced in Connecticut.
Back in Chester, we had the Dump Nazi aka King of the Dump, that’s what people called him. He was a grumpy old Yankee and you had better show proper documentation when you entered his kingdom. He was feared by all good citizens, but, when you make it this hard to dump stuff, some people are going to dump the stuff out in the woods, and they did.
Nobody follows you around at the dumps here in Arizona, or demands you have a sticker on your windshield or asks for ID. And the people who work at the dumps here all seem pretty mellow.
Only recently have they provided separate recycling containers at our town transfer station. Prior to this year cans and cardboard, etc., went into the hopper with everything else. If you wanted to recycle, you had to find a place to bring your cans, like the Boy Scouts, who will recycle them for money. Or you can bring them to a recycling-for-money plant yourself, there’s one in Douglas. I have no idea how many cans it takes to be worth doing that.
Despite the ease of dumping stuff here, there is still plenty of litter and piles of trash in people’s yards. Not so much in the town centers, but here in the outback neighborhoods people can be lazy about it. That part is annoying, but Arizona is vast and can probably accommodate it…but I just friggin’ hate it, especially encountering it on my walks. I pick up litter constantly in front of my house, on my street, in my neighborhood. A common Arizona sight is piles of metal, wood, plastic—whatever—piles of junk, and junk cars…but they are immobile and you get used to them—it’s the other kind of garbage that’s disgusting—kitchen middens in backyards. I grew up considering littering to be low class; here, they don’t get that. People don’t want to litter up their cars I guess so they throw it out the windows.
Why are these two areas of U.S. so different in their attitudes toward garbage? Is it due to small spaces or big government? Each person is estimated to produce around 1500 lbs. of garbage a year in America, plus the several pounds of daily sewage that gets flushed. One reason may be the number of wells in Connecticut that must be protected. But even here, garbage processing is a complicated and expensive series of steps involving sorting, compacting, packing into shipping containers, and transporting by truck to another plant where it goes through more steps to either recycle it, burn it, or put in a landfill. Many landfills nowadays are high-tech, collecting gases and other recyclable byproducts of our garbage, which are then used in ingenious ways to make power.
This is one tiny part of the “infrastructure” they always talk about when countries suffer catastrophes, or just haven’t gotten around to actually having an infrastructure. Think of how intricate America’s is and where we would be without it…cold, hungry, and sitting on top of enormous piles of garbage, probably.