Downtown Journal
An occasional column about city life

Lydia Edwards is a brave woman. The freshman city councilor represents District One, which includes the North End, and she has chosen to wrap herself around a perilous issue haunting everyone – garbage. In fact, the disposal of waste goes to the heart of the preservation of the planet. Councilor Edwards could not have chosen a more crucial issue.

Edwards proposes a public/private/non-profit partnership. Private buildings and citizens would contribute to an as-yet-unnamed non-profit for hiring hokeys (street sweepers and trash stewards) to clean specific streets and collect the detritus. Because city street cleaners, officially on the payroll of Boston, are few and stretched thin, the extra workers would complement the effort to keep the neighborhood unsoiled. The North End desperately needs the attention. Edwards says her polling reveals trash is her constituents’ top concern.

A friend remembers living in the North End years ago. She says she slipped and slid on trails of grease oozing from many eateries and slicking the sidewalks. These days, the grease situation seems more contained, but the trash is out of bounds. The neighborhood is adrift in pastry boxes, restaurant overage, tourist trappings and grimy old-fashioned garbage spilling from one building to another. The city collects on Mondays and Fridays, but the bins and gutters overflow every day of the week. Trash has always been a concern here. My apartment overlooks the refuse collection area of my condo building. Sometimes I look down into an overflowing dumpster and wonder how the good earth copes.

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The cardboard, for instance, is overwhelming, only getting worse as Amazon continues its march toward world domination. What are we supposed to do with all those packages bringing us stuff? Some people don’t even break down the cartons, leaving them whole to clog receptacles. The city will collect the cardboard only if the stuff is broken down, cut up into 3-foot by 3-foot stacks, tied up neatly and piled at the curb on the night before recycling day. Who has the time for this? If there was a law requiring the dismantling and neat stacking of used cardboard boxes, we might find the time. Right now, it’s not urgent enough.

Most people I know, including myself, throw the cardboard away. My condominium recycles. And the recycling receptacles are always crammed with stuff, including my own paper, plastic and metal. But we have no policy for dealing with the cardboard.

And what about all those plastic bags? Starting Friday, December 14, the city has a new ordinance that doesn’t quite ban plastic bags, but will mandate stores charge extra for them. The ordinance reads in part: “The purpose of this ordinance is to reduce the use of disposable checkout bags by Retail Establishments in the City of Boston, curb litter on the streets, protect marine environment, waterways, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste, and to promote the use of Reusable Bags by Retail Establishments located in the City.”

Sounds well and good and maybe too little too late, but, gee, it’s a step. And I’m proud to live in a city doing something, anything to reduce carbon emissions and help preserve the environment for future generations because, gee, it seems as if nobody else cares. Or wants to trouble themselves.

The official Washington line is no line actually. The president doesn’t believe in climate change. He eats cheeseburgers. He wears big trucker-deep hats so his coif won’t blow in an ill wind. He wants to close newspapers instead of recycling them.

Lydia Edwards, however, is the elected official who stepped up. Her small effort in District 1 of Boston could resonate nationally. She is, at least, creating an interesting solution instead of moaning about the mess. Her plan could be a model for change if it’s successful.

Let’s keep hope for more bright ideas during this season of trash. It’s a time when used-up pine trees and colorful ripped wrappings and ribbons will soon spill out of every garbage bag – as we try not to become buried in a welter of cardboard. Stay mindful of the little things you can do to make the earth a more resilient place.

Monica Collins is a writer who lives on the Waterfront with her husband, Ben Alper, and dog, Dexter.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. “Most people I know, including myself, throw the cardboard away.”

    Please take an extra few minutes and recycle the cardboard or stop buying so many things online that it becomes unbearable to do so. Throwing it away undermines your later comments about climate change.

  2. Monica Collins has written a very good piece with a thoughtful discussion of the trash problems we are facing. Her acknowledgment that, like most human beings, her efforts don’t measure up to the ideal, in no way undermines the points she is making. Do we all need to do more? Of course. Can we work on it together? Hopefully. Is lecturing those who try to discuss a problem helpful? Rarely, if ever. Know-it-alls are seldom effective.

    • I agree with 90+ percent of what she wrote, but it’s really disheartening to see a progressive person admit to throwing cardboard away. If she framed it as an admission and then a pledge to do better in the future, then I would have likewise phrased my comment differently.

      I’ll take it a step further. We should all buy fewer things online. The first of the three R’s* is Reduce and the last is Recycle. Reducing our consumption of cardboard by buying fewer things online is far more important to the environment that recycling it after we have received our purchase.

      *Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  3. Who are you to demand that Monica Collins explicitly promises to do better just to make you feel better? Give it a rest. She said she doesn’t always recycle. Neither to I and neither do 90% of the people who live here.

    Last week I watched our current trash collectors throw cardboard in with the regular trash. I even saw them take my 30 gallon recycling bag and throw it in with the regular trash. Made me wonder why I bother to collect a bag of stuff to recycle if it all ends up in the dump anyway.

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