Thursday, April 21, 2011

Recycle Winning

I did some solid problem solving the other day, leading to a win-win-win-win situation.

Here in Seoul, taking out the trash is a bit of a hassle. In order to legally get rid of garbage, one must purchase a special district (gu) trash bag (more on Seoul gu, click here!) from a local store. That’s the tax that pays the garbage men. The hitch, of course, is that it’s illegal to throw recyclables in these bags.

In my old apartment, the 4th sub-basement of my building had a recycling area. As the overwhelming majority of my garbage is recyclable (read: beer cans, wine bottles, and take-out containers), I did the recycling every week and only took out the garbage-garbage every two weeks. That biweekly garbage-garbage wasn’t even a large bag, just the size that generally lines a bathroom garbage can.

Now in my new apartment, there is no designated recycling area. My old place was an officetel, which means mid-rise (mine was 7 floors) with retail on the ground floor and 14 apartments on the other floors. My new place is more of a low-rise villa, 3 floors and a basement consisting of 5 apartments and a spicy chicken foot restaurant. My designated trash area is the small alley that separates my building from the next.

Both my old and new apartments lie within the city limits of Seoul, but the locations are wholly different. My old spot in Nowon was more suburban than some actual suburbs. Getting to the subway required a bus, and even then it took forever to get anywhere. Now I live 2 minutes from the subway by foot. I can get anywhere in town that matters in half an hour or less by subway or bus. I can walk to the heart of downtown Seoul in less time than it took to get there via subway from my old place. I can get anywhere via taxi for 10 bucks or less.

The point? Seoul is Seoul and Korea is Korea, but I live in a considerably more urban area than I used to. This means, like in my Chicago days, there’s simply no reason to separate my trash and do my recycling, not when others will do it for me.

Of course, it seems a bit cruel to demean the down on their luck people that would like to go through my trash to collect the recyclables for profit. Why make them separate my trash? Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone involved if I never combined my trash to begin with?

Last Friday, it suddenly occurred to me that my bathroom window overlooks the dedicated garbage alley. What if, instead of me going to the store spending extra energy and money on the purchase of gu-approved trash bags, then illegally throwing my recycling into said bags as I have nowhere else to take my recycling in this building, then walking my trash bags downstairs into the alley, and then inadvertently forcing vagrants and destitute elderly to sift through my garbage in order to profit from my recyclables, what if there were another way? And what happens if the garbage men make it to my bags before the recyclable hoarders (note: this has never happened in the history of this or any city) do? Well, the destitute would lose money, the garbageman would have to waste a large portion of his day researching the source of the rouge bag, and upon the completion of his investigation, I would be fined. Nobody wins in that scenario. This method simply won’t do.

I invented a new method, the most sensible one I could think of. I threw my empties out the window, into the alley. No trash to separate. No illegal use of a bag. No need for me to put on pants and go up and down the stairs. The best part of this plan? Well, drop-kicking tall-boy empties out my window from 10 feet away at 3 a.m. was obviously the best part. The second best part? It works, and I was right. I looked out my window when I woke up on Saturday. The trash bags neighbors had left were still there, but all of the cans I had hucked out my window were gone.

No time. No work. No cost. No pants. Win win win win.

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