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Taking out the trash

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By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

Monday evening, I called up a friend of mine to talk about a business matter. He was in the midst of taking out the trash at his girlfriend’s house. She lives in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Georgetown.

He was grousing about the precision of can placement required by sanitation crews. He says he has to line up the garbage and trash containers in a certain way, between the curb and the street, and in accordance (up and down the street) with a traffic sign across the street; otherwise, they get a nasty note on the trash bins. Why don’t they just give him GPS coordinates and he could check the location with his phone? Sounds much simpler.

He is a little older than me, but of the same roots. He grew up in extreme southeastern Ohio on a farm near the Ohio River. I remarked that in our youth, we could have never imagined that the America of our adulthood would have such a fascination with trash. He agreed.

We shared stories from those days. His and mine were similar, growing up on farms in southern Ohio.

In my case, again not much different than his, we had a 55-gallon drum sitting out near the smokehouse. Into it went all the metal cans, after both ends had been removed and they had been flattened. About twice a year, I would hook the trailer to a tractor, load the drum in it (needed help with that, brother or dad) and take it to a long-established dump site in the pasture. This site was on a bluff overlooking Franklin Branch near the back of our farm. It had obviously been used for decades before we arrived.

This bluff was about 150 feet above the creek and the site was in a ditch that had eroded over time. Most farms had a place like this where they dumped such deleterious material.

The idea was to use this waste material to help control the erosion as it rusted away. Everything that was biodegradable waste or was combustible went to the garden. There it was either burnt or simply left on the surface to be worked into the ground. Same was true for the ashes out of the wood-burning stoves.

Trash required little thought and did not require any cash outlays from our family’s meager funds.

Of course, today’s world is much different. As a nation and elsewhere in the developed world, we are fascinated with trash, right down to the straws we use to suck liquid out of containers.

Christian Dior has just come out with a package of 10 reusable glass straws, appropriately branded, for a mere $150. Can a straw washing machine from KitchenAid be far behind? In a year or two after that, will Whirlpool come out with a super-efficient model that use less water and electricity?

Then, I can see it now, P&G will jump on the bandwagon with a special formulation of Dawn just to use in these machines. You will be able to use Alexa to order all these devices from Amazon, delivered to your home tomorrow, if not this afternoon.

From my perspective, it is astounding the effort and preoccupation we have with trash, let alone the money we are willing to spend on it or on avoiding it.

Ironically, for over 25 years now, I have made a very good living playing in the waste stream of recycled boxes. As a youth, I could never have imagined there was a living here for anyone, let alone me, in such a space.

I have been involved in building over a dozen paper machines that use recycled boxes as their feedstock – five of them in the state of New York. I have been involved as a consultant on many others. Before that, I was the manager of two paper mills that used recycled fiber as their feedstock.

It is probably good that we do all this recycling, but truth be known, I am a bit agnostic about it. Yes, I think trash should be disposed in a proper place, not left carelessly strewn about, but it seems to me like we are way over the top on the whole subject.

It does make good business sense to make paper out of the appropriate waste streams, especially when the mills can get the fiber for a very low cost, but it is not a religion for me.

My attitude is probably best summed up by relating a conversation I had, over 20 years ago now, with a consultant we were using on a project in our office. She was a real fanatic on the subject of recycling. She had been to visit us, and I was taking her back to the Atlanta Airport so she could catch a plane to her home city. In the car, she started chiding me because we did not have separate recycling bins next to the trash cans in our offices.

I looked at her and said, “Drug dealers don’t use drugs, do they?”

Never saw her or heard from her again.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at

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