There’s something deeply satisfying about having someone you don’t know take away your rubbish each week with such noisy enthusiasm. Alongside Radio New Zealand’s early morning bird calls, the roar of the recycler’s truck is a welcome weekly reminder that the sins and excesses of the past seven days are about to become memories.
Wine empties and stubbies vanish forever in a waterfall of crashing glass, no longer sitting on the verge under the scrutiny of the neighbours. I don’t want to know where my unread circulars go or whether my empty merlot bottles will one day form part of Auckland’s northern motorway extension. I just want them gone from my daily life, and especially from my garage.
Anyway it’s not rubbish any more. It’s recycling, it’s helping the planet and it provides jobs for Chinese.
I grew up with rubbish rather than recycling. Our kitchen chip heater operated like a household industrial furnace, melting down vast quantities of household rubbish, including animal bones and mum’s baking failures. A44-gallon incinerator down the back yard handled the serious stuff. Our family’s incinerator always seemed to be set on smoulder. Kids played for hours in the backyard, wreathed in toxic fumes from melting linoleum, old cardigans and empty paint tins.
The incinerator is banned from the back yard these days. In its place stands the wheelie bin, which I trundle to the roadside every Tuesday morning for its rendezvous with Wheelie Bin Man.
I always hide because I know my bin is always grossly overweight, sagging on its plastic axles. Once he’s gone, I emerge from hiding and assure myself that my six-day old red Thai curry, now embalmed in congealed rice, will soon be fertilising Mother Earth, along with that whiffy chunk of cheese.
The green wheelie bin has not only replaced the incinerator, it has probably single-handedly killed off that flawed but legendary Kiwi invention, the home-made trailer.
I’ve owned two trailers in my life and both disembowelled themselves under the soggy weight of lawn clippings and dead mattresses that waited in vain, sometimes for years, to be taken to the tip.
Every post-war Kiwi trailer was different. All were experimental. Special tail-gates and axle assemblies off Morris Oxfords were welded, modified and welded again. Some trailers were made from the complete back end of Vauxhall Velox cars. Few had brake lights that worked.
My father always borrowed trailers that had no warrant of fitness, no current registration and safety chains with no shackles. Their tread-free tyres were slippery testimony to the thousands of miles they had already travelled on the family car. Dad always made our dump run late in the afternoon, hoping the lower angle of the sun would dazzle a parked traffic cop. The trailer was always illegally overloaded and dangerously secured by dad’s extraordinary collection of ropes, with knots so solid they eventually had to be sawn off.
Our destination, the old Roy’s Hill dump west of Hastings, is now just a few grassy hills entombing decades of city waste, sitting on the border of the region’s premiere red wine country. It may have a future life growing grapes on its shingle soils to produce a full-bodied brake-fluid red, with subtle hints of car battery and mattress.
Recycling day has given me an insight into how people live. On the morning dog walk I pass little piles of plastic bags, bottles and cartons of newspapers, some fastidiously bundled and tied with string by retired men in Summitstone units with safety screens on their doors. One box of the week’s empties had six empty scotch whisky bottles in it. My recycling studies suggest that Tui, followed by Export Gold, is New Zealand’s beer of choice.
When I lived on the edge of Havelock North, just inside the boundary, people started bringing their recycling to me. They were lifestylers who lived beyond the authorised ambit of the recycling truck. So the lifestylers would emerge from their pine-forested retreats at dawn, furtively depositing their household recycling in big orange bags, along with pallets of empty gin bottles.
I still get a lot of unwanted recycling delivered these days, even in the heart of town. It arrives in my letterbox which has become overcrowded since Harvey Norman, Noel Leeming and the blokes moved in, along with the friendly teams at Tremains, Pizza Hut, Farmers and the lady who drops off the returnable catalogue that we never open.
People more elderly than me hide repel the junk mail juggernaut with polite “No Circulars Thank You” signs, the capital letters indicating they’re being firm but polite.
I should get a “no junk mail” sign but I always hesitate to buy one. I’m slightly put off by the fact it uses an American slogan instead of something more Anglo-Saxon and bluntly offensive.
Anyway, being polite doesn’t work. “No junk mail” signs still don’t stop Americans getting buried by 4 million tonnes of the stuff every year. I’ve got a far more direct phrase for direct marketers — but I’ll need a bigger letterbox.