That is how the Wisconsin State Journal titled a recent op-ed of mine they published today. You (yes, you!) can read the op-ed below.
Here is my dirty little secret. Every Friday morning, I walk my dog aroundthe neighborhood and peer into my neighbors’ private lives. I am a recycling voyeur.
I wasn’t always this way. In the cities where I used to reside, recyclableswere placed at the curb in wheeled, opaque, plastic bins. It is the City ofMadison’s current rules requiring that recyclables be placed at the curb inclear plastic bags that made me who I am today.
As my dog and I stroll around the neighborhood, I learn all sorts ofinteresting things about my neighbors simply by looking at the clear plasticbags of recycling they set out to be collected.
Before moving to Madison, I was not aware of the sheer volume of diet colaconsumed in this country. And yet, scarcely three houses on a block can bepassed before I come upon a sizable stash of empty diet cola cans set out tobe recycled. Varieties of diet cola I long ago consigned to the scrap leapof zero calorie thirst quenchers can weekly be found in my neighbors’ clearplastic recycling bags.
Regardless of what they might tell you at cocktail parties with glasses ofdelicate, floral, complex wines in their hands, my neighbors are not wineconnoisseurs. I can go weeks without seeing more than a handful of winebottles spread out amongst thirty or more houses.
Beer, rather, is the alcoholic beverage of choice among my neighbors. Andlest the local microbreweries feel encouraged, I must dashtheir hopes. My neighbors drink cheapbeer, in cans. Old Style, Old Milwaukee, Pabst Blue Ribbon, andsimilar cans are most likely to be discarded for recycling come trash day.
Some houses require me to engage in imaginative speculation to explain theweekly disposal of fifty or more beer cans. Rather than leap to the ratherdepressing conclusion that I’m surrounded by closeted but functionalalcoholics, I decide that people must have unique and relatively unknown uses for beer behind closed doors. Perhaps they use beer to unclog theirdrains. Maybe they bathe in the stuff twice weekly in some bizarrecleansing ritual. Or perhaps they really, really like to make beer canchicken on the grill.
One family appears to be painting the inside of their domicilewith half-and-half. It is the only partially sane reason I’ve been able toconjure for their consumption of five or six quarts of half-and-half eachand every week. And while dairy farmers might be encouraged by that news,they will most likely be discouraged to read that I see very few gallon jugsof milk. Most of my neighbors now purchase milk, when they bother topurchase milk at all, in half-gallon bottles.
I can tell you which of my neighbors are apparently unable to decipher thelittle recycling codes stamped on the bottom of plastic containers as Iroutinely see items that I know are not recyclable mixed in with items thatare. Those who own cats and buy their litter in plastic bottles are markedon my mental map of the neighborhood. If you are one of my neighbors and ifyour own personal cook is Chef Boyardee, chances are that I know it.
Unfortunately, this secret pleasure will soon end. When the City of Madisonrecently charted a well-trodden course into the world of semi-automatedtrash and recycling pick-up, the handwriting was on the wall for recyclingvoyeurs like myself.
My neighbors will soon be able to hide their discarded recyclables in opaquewheeled bins. When those bins are wheeled out to the curb, their contentswill be just as unknown to me as the future itself. At that point, I willno longer be able to call myself a recycling voyeur and my dirty littlesecret will be no more.