I know there are people out there who think that calling something a ‘first world’ problem is elitist. The real ethical dilemmas are often the reverse of the correction. Does a quota system that manages for inequality discriminate against those that formerly had the upper hand? Does labelling for first or third reinforce the stereotypes? Probably but what other language do we have?
Consensus is generally the driver for change. Does an American consensus, for example on inequality, inform the the rest of the world? The French gave women the vote in 1944, lagging New Zealand by 50 years. I guess fraternité trumped sororité. The US only did it in 1920 and that was 8 years before the UK and Ireland. Saudi Arabia followed suit almost a century later. What will Covid do to consensus now that women’s hard won independences are being eroded by national imperatives? Recovery from Covid will be directed by one gender to the disadvantage of the other. The limitations of earlier equality drives (undoing inequality) is that there aren’t enough Merkels or Von Der Leyens to speak for women. The danger is that national imperatives will foster a new batch of warrior leaders while women are engaged in making the recovery happen in homes, schools, nursing homes and hospitals around the globe.
Well, it’s back to the bins for me. We have a weekly bin collection. A bin collection we pay for. We have three big wheelie bins that are ugly as sin and the major downside is that they inhabit our drive because there is nowhere else they fit. We split our waste to facilitate recycling though not all recycling is yet equal (or easy or sustainable). We live in a place where companies compete to take our discarded rubbish. They turn up at the frequency they promise and close enough to the clock time too. Every week. Our refuse collector even differentiates itself by washing the bins regularly. The only label I can think of is elite.
‘So what’ you say? Everyone has bin collection. Yes, if you have the electricity with which to read this post, sure, you probably have bin collection. I’ve been to places where bin collection is many generations in the future. The notion of the luxury of having waste to discard is unthinkable. Yes there are places where tampons aren’t available for 50% of the population let alone the nappies for those they care for. And there are places even in the first world where where tampons are unaffordable. Inequality is what you make it, no matter the consensus.
And so back to our waste bins. There’s a guy who lives down the road from here who does things differently. He’s developed the habit of dropping his refuse in our garden. He wraps it in everlasting plastic bags, typically transparent so we can see he sorts his waste. This week he had at least four boiled eggs, two melons, quite a lot of onions and a considerable amount of sweet potatoes. He often leaves these bags at our gate post. To be fair, he separates out the bottles, which he often places under one of our trees. And to be even fairer, he doesn’t do this to us every week. He started several years ago. A slow start with the occasional deposit testing our resolve perhaps? He’s considerate. Last week, for example, he did it next door, high-side. I could see the paper sack with a few grim objects under the bush in the neighbouring front garden. Our low-side neighbour said he gets the occasional share too. He told me this when he was passing me this morning as I grumbled while picking up someone else’s tea-bags.
Today, our benefactor had actually binned his waste. He chose our bins after they were emptied this morning. But before they were scheduled to be washed. And they don’t wash them if there’s anything in the damned bin. So I had to empty the slimey, oozing, potential covid carrying waste which, of course, ruptured when I lifted them. He totally misses the point of recycling by wrapping everything in plastic.
The bottles I took away last week included medicine with the patient’s name torn off. I won’t say what meds he’s on since, clearly, he doesn’t want you to trace him. Perhaps he’s worried by ID theft. Who knows?
Another neighbour passed by with a small dog on a lead as I was tidying up. I’ve seen her out walking the dog quite regularly of late. Our dog Gus was slinking off, pretending to be deaf at the time. I was calling after him, my hands holding someone else’s rotting food waste. Gus chose his escape moment well.
He, the depositer, eats a healthy diet despite his unhealthy disposal habits. (This could be said of our dog come to think of it.) Perhaps the bad carb waste is in another nearby garden.
The lady dog walker assured me this was her son’s dog. Her’s had been a rescue dog and was very well behaved and smart too, she explained. ‘You never can tell’, she remarked inanely.
She also wanted me to know she’d had some minutes to spare earlier in the week and had cut the community grass at the top of our road. She said she’d an appointment that she couldn’t miss but did manage to spend 15 minutes nonetheless. ‘It’s not perfect’ she added of the work she’d done on the grass.
Such effort shouldn’t be rewarded by having to pick up our friend’s waste but guess what, he’s dropping it six doors up the road too. Or perhaps he has an identical twin. This neighbour reminded me that a lot of people put dog waste bags in her bin too. Yes, that happens in this part of the first world too.
He is a he. I’ve seen his Bin Laden beard and backpack stopping to look at our hedge. The first time I saw him I thought he was genuinely curious. Now I imagine he’s seeing a leaf shaped like the rorschach test he’s probably been shown elsewhere. If you know anything about inkblots, you know they are useless for diagnosing depression, anxiety disorders, psychopathic personality, or violent and criminal tendencies. No, I imagine his case is more severe and responds to inkblots. So I don’t approach him.
In truth, I don’t know what to do because he knows where we live. So I must accept that our bin was laden this morning and that’s not really so bad when put into a global perspective.
I recall the tramp called Forty Coats when I was growing up. His layered overabundance of coats was instantly recognisable, his sobriquet well known to many in the county. Less well known perhaps is that he was an Irish Times reader. We knew this because he often read ours. There was a daily delivery and the paper didn’t fit under the door or through the letter box. So the newspaper delivery kids rolled it and pushed it into the letter box anyway. But they did it without tearing the paper. The days the paper was torn were the dry, summer days that Forty Coats would pop into the garden for a read. After that, he’d push the disturbed pages back into the unfriendly jaws of the letterbox. I think Forty Coats chose our house because my parents were very late risers because their restaurant business rarely closed before 1 am, meaning they were very late to bed most nights.
I’ll close with a reminder of the horrific consequences of running a family newspaper delivery business from a residence. Thirteen of the Howard family members burned to death in their home in 1974.
The sharing of the newspaper with Forty Coats must predate this Dalkey tragedy.