January 20, 2005

Life in Madison: trash, string.

One of the distinctive features of life in Madison is the difficulty of following the trash collection rules. A thick booklet is mailed to us annually to let us know just what we are allowed to put out for the collectors and how we need to separate and package it. Sometimes you put something out, and you even try to follow the rules, but the trash collector doesn't pick it up. He doesn't leave a note identifying the rule you've failed to comply with, and you have to guess, try putting it out a different way next week, and hope the trash has become acceptable and collectible. I wore myself out on Saturday cutting down a lot of cardboard boxes. I'd had six pieces of furniture delivered, and they were quite elaborately cartoned. Recycling of corrugated cardboard is mandatory -- except for pizza boxes, for which recycling is forbidden. So I worked quite hard getting the boxes cut down and taped in a pile. But I've had my cardboard snubbed by trash collectors in the past, and I knew there was some rule about how small the piles had to be. When I dragged the four big piles out the curb this morning, I figured I was probably wasting my time and dreaded the recutting and taping that lay ahead. How happy I was when I returned home today and saw that the merciful trashman had picked up the oversized cardboard!

And about that tape. I wanted to tie up the cardboard with string. With string, you can make a slip knot and use it to tighten down the layers of cardboard. It's much better than tape. When I was doing the boxes on Saturday, I realized I was out of string and drove over to Target to buy some. Where do they put the string? Is it over on the housewares side of the store with the woman-oriented products? It's an ordinary household item like a sponge or a hanger isn't it? Or is it way the hell on the other side of the store, past the masses of clothing, with the home repair items, on the male-oriented side of the big store? Maybe over here with the wrapping materials? Here's packaging tape, so where is the string? I pick up the red telephone and ask about string. They say it's back in Automotive, near the back wall of the store. Okay. Automotive? What's automotive about string? I go back and find some odd things like rope and natural jute twine packaged for the crafts market. No normal string, such as you'd use to tie up cardboard. I find a stockboy and explain what I'm looking for. He says those things back in Automotive are really all they have, that Target is phasing out string. Phasing out string? How can you phase out string? It's a standard item. Well, he says, consolingly, maybe come back around March and they should have some kite string.

UPDATE: A reader writes:
Thank you for your post on Madison trash. I lived there in the early 90s. After we moved in, we had a prodigious number of cardboard boxes to break down. After several rebuffed efforts to recycle them curbside, I called the recyclers to ask what I had to do to get my boxes picked up. Elaborate rules were laid out. I asked what I would do if I were disabled, thinking that surely in Madison someone would have thought about those of us who cannot dice corrugated cardboard into precise squares. They suggested I ask a friend to help. I reminded them that I had boxes because I had just moved in. Because I had just moved in, I had no friends. No luck. Rules are rules.

Though he was new to town, he displayed some Madison-savvy by going with the what-about-the-disabled angle. I love when one liberal cause is played against another. Accommodating the disabled has just got to trump recycling!

ANOTHER UPDATE: I'm getting email about the difficulty of finding string at Target. And a propos of string, a reader sends this link.

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