Thursday, March 02, 2023

Rollcart Conformity for Princeton's Trash

It's the end of an era for a certain kind of diversity in Princeton. For as long as I can remember, Princeton's streets have been on the receiving end of an endless variety of stuff to be hauled away. Be it trash, recyclables, leaves or brush, each house would present at the curb its own motley assortment. Large or small, containerized or piled loose--it hasn't mattered. It has all gotten hauled away. Rare was the street that remained clean, even for a day.

Last week, that began to change. A truck came by, distributing new rollcarts to households. 

And on Thursday, the hodgepodge of trash cans and plastic garbage bags that had for so long been the norm was replaced by order, standardization, uniformity. A truck comes along, plucks the container up, empties it and sets it back down again before heading to the next. 

Orient the rollcart the wrong way, and the truck may not be able to empty it. (Update: Looks like they still have a crewmember on the ground, who rolls the cart to a "tipper hook" in back to lift and empty the cart, rather than the more automated arm that comes out from the side of the truck. The mechanical tipper hook at least reduces back strain for the crew.)

One home tried putting out the usual mish-mash menagerie,
but only the new rollcart got emptied. 

A few days later, another truck came by to pick up these last old style outpourings, swallowing the old trash cans as well in one big gulp. Large items that don't fit into the new rollcarts can still get picked up, but the resident has to send in a request each time.

Can a town with an endless diversity of opinions, passionately held and frequently expressed, accept the conformity of the new rollcarts? One homeowner predicted rebellion, a grand uprising of discontent that would spill into the town council's chambers. 

Ten years ago, I came to the conclusion that Princeton was allergic to such conformity. That's when the borough and township merged. At the time, each household in the township had to find its own trash collection service. Some chose corporate collectors like Waste Management; others chose some self-styled collector with a pickup truck. Trucks of varied size and descriptions drove hither and yon in the township, chasing trash. 

I was sure that consolidated Princeton would do what so many other towns and cities have done, and go with the most efficient collection method, with industrial strength, uniform rollcarts built to be mechanically lifted and emptied into the truck. 

But no. Though one hauler was chosen for the newly consolidated Princeton, the trash cans became a free for all. 

Hardware stores were glad to sell every shape and size container, which crews would then lift and empty into the truck by hand, their backs apparently impervious to strain. Even if these store-bought containers had wheels and hinged lids, they were too flimsy and varied in shape to ever be plucked up by a machine and emptied in an efficient manner.
Over time, homeowners gravitated towards the convenience of wheels and hinged lids, but these were all rollcart wannabees lifted manually into the truck. 

The rollcart wannabes on the left in this photo, and all other nonconforming trash cans, are now exiled from the street. If each house has accumulated three trash cans over the years, that's 30,000 trash cans that have lost their raison d'etre. Surprisingly, no recycler was found for all this bulky plastic. I looked at the two I have. One says it's #4 plastic, the other #2. Residents were urged to find creative uses for the now outdated containers, but one can't help but grieve that the throwaway culture is still the norm that environmentalists must burn their energy urging people to creatively resist.

Another surprise was that the town chose to distribute the 64 gallon size containers instead of the standard 96. The logic here is that a smaller container will encourage people to produce less waste. 

We'll see how it all plays out. For those wishing to hold onto the good old days, there's still the county's yellow and green recycling buckets, which lack wheels and lids, and tip over in the wind, littering the streets with plastic. And we can still pile loose yardwaste and brush at the curb, to sit for weeks, bleaching in the sun.

Hopefully, Princeton will grow to like its new rollcarts, and apply their efficiency to the collection of recyclables and yardwaste as well. There can be comfort in conformity, while we pursue diversity in other ways. 

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