Sunday, May 20, 2007

THE RIGHT THING: TRASH TALK

In the nine years I've been writing a column on ethics, I've all but given up trying to predict what topics will draw the most response from readers. A column questioning Vice President Cheney's claim that he has no financial ties to Halliburton failed to gain much traction (The Right Thing: When Executives Say They Don’t Have a Clue & THE RIGHT THING; With the Benefit of Hindsight, a Year-End Mea Culpa), while one about tapping into a neighbor's wireless Internet service continues to raise readers' hackles to this day (The Right Thing: SURFING ON BORROWED TIME).

But the column that drew by far the strongest response I've ever received was one that I wrote a couple of years ago about whether it was OK to let someone take recyclables from a bin set up at a Home Depot near Columbus, Ohio (The Right Thing: WHO'S STEALING MY TRASH? & The Right Thing: WHAT WAS I THINKING?). I argued that there was no harm and thus no foul from an ethical standpoint. Many readers chose to differ, arguing that the guy was robbing the community of funds used to pay for recycling efforts in the region.

So it is with some trepidation that I approach this week's topic: trash-- or, more precisely, trash disposal after a getaway to a family cabin.

Add to the mix that an adult son in his 40s would like me to settle a disagreement he has been having with his mother-in-law about the right thing to do, and you have the makings of a perfectly messy storm.

The situation is simple enough: Since no one wanted to share a four-hour car ride home to Mission Viejo, Calif., with a 13-gallon bag of trash, my reader's mother-in-law suggested that they dispose of the trash in the "public trash bin" outside the gas station in the little town where their family cabin is located.

My reader, Jeff E., told her that it would be ethically wrong to do so, unless permission were granted by the owner.

This led to a heated discussion of whether the bin was in fact public. Mother-in-law argued that people gassing up use it all the time to dispose of trash. Jeff E. sees a huge difference, however, between depositing an occasional fast-food wrapper and stuffing in all a household's accumulated trash from a long weekend.

"Therefore," he writes, "dumping one's household trash would essentially be stealing, since someone else is paying for the trash-bin service. Who's right?"

I'm not sure that dumping without permission equates to stealing, but otherwise Jeff E. is correct. It's wrong. If they want to dump their big bag of family trash in the gas-station trash bin, the right thing to do is to ask permission from the owner of the gas station.

Whether the trash bin is on private or public property should not make a difference in how they dispose of the trash. If there were a large trash barrel at the town center, they would be equally in the wrong to dump their household trash without first asking permission to make sure that they weren't violating any town ordinances, laws that very likely prohibit such dump-and-runs. Dumping laws vary from community to community and, no matter where you are, it's your obligation to make sure that you dispose of your trash in accordance with the law. Ignorance of the law, as they say, is no excuse.

In this particular battle, Jeff E. is right. And ultimately he did the right thing. After getting home, he got permission from the manager of the local town dump to dispose of the trash there. He attached the bag to his bicycle with bungee cords and rode the two miles to the dump to make his fully sanctioned drop-off.

Sometimes being right can be a lot of work.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

How good to know someone did the right thing with the trash from the weekend trip........not only got permission, but took the trash to the sanctioned dump on a bicycle. Next......find a way to have less trash from the weekend. No doubt this good man will do this as well. Congratulations; you are a symbol of ethical living.

Anonymous said...

Mr Seglin,

I just read your discussion on whether dumping your trash in the
local "public trash" bin is the right or wrong thing and I have a few comments (Columbus Dispatch, Sun May 20th, 2007).

1) So, the "occasional" fast-food wrapper is OK, but the weekend
long waste was not. How do we draw a line on that spectrum? For me, for example, a weekend of trash is a small garbage bag (usually plastic from the same grocery store where I bought the stuff and now "dumping" or is it "returning" it back to them), but what about the "occasional" fast food from, let's say a family of five after a short visit to McD's - mom, dad, 3 kids, toss in a diaper or two, maybe a little baggie of doggie-poo (wow - a rhyme, though not intentional).
Where do you draw that line? Is 1 day of trash OK but not 2? I
usually work Saturdays, so my "weekend" is only 1 day, but if I have a Monday off and I dont work Saturday, then my weekend is 3 days - still a "weekend"? Or, is your definition, or ethical solution, dependent on further qualifiers - such as "long" weekend (defined as 3 days) vs "typical" weekend (maybe 2 days?) vs "short" weekend (1
day?). Maybe just easier to define it by the pound (wait - what about the giant bag of styrofoam popcorn vs old bricks) or by density or by volume? Should we factor in simple shaped objects vs those that are irregular? sharp?

2) The next question, is where should I dump my trash? Toss it out the window as many people do? I won't even comment on that! You
suggest driving several miles to dump it in a dump..... using the
extra gas that you just bought from the same gas station that I could not use to get rid of the stuff to begin with? Besides, if there are trash cans at the gas station, as I think they all have, what is wrong with bypassing the extra human labor of moving the trash to the dumpster and toss the stuff in the dumpster to begin with.

3) If the definition of "ethics" is achieving the most common good
for society, then does it really matter where you throw your trash as long as it is in a proper and "socially" or community accepted trash location. If a company has to pay extra for their trash removal and as long as you are supporting that company financially, then part of
their income that they get from you, as a customer, should include
support of the community by accepting local trash

4) And now the problem that I have (and am constantly at odds with my
significant other). The city that I live in charges us for trash
removal. Anything that can not be recycled (by the city's definition, of course, not mine - and no one knows their rules) must
have a sticker - which of course is purchased at the local grocery
store (so, in #3, because of this they do have some social contract
with the community to assist in proper garbage removal). No
sticker? They leave it on the curb. The problem is that the city has no "public/city" dumpsters - which of course begs the obvious question of how to you get rid of stuff that you cant put a sticker on? Trash bags are easy. How about broken picture frames or various sharp objects which would be "unsafe" to leave around or pack into bags? Old lawn mowers/TVs/etc which dont work (this, I know is a another huge undefined problem)? What about stuff that you dont want
sitting around until the next collection (leftovers which can rot, attract animals - who can get into any and all garbage cans, smell, leak, and so on).

My solution - and one that I have justified (at least in my own mind) as being the most good for the most people (society) is to recycle what I can (my sig. other takes care of this), put stickers on the other stuff, and use the local grocery store dumpers when needed (they are in the trash business anyhow). The bottom line - as long as the trash in put in a trash dumpster in a location where "I" have a "social contract" of some sort with the owner (city where I pay taxes, store where I shop, work where I slave away at underpaid and overworked) then, I am doing my civic duty to keep the place clean.

-michael from Upper Arlington, Ohio

(by the way, those orange stickers are $3 per large garbage bag and I
still have not figured out how to get rid of that old lawn mower
which does not work)

A Common Woman said...

Your column about garbage: Whether it is wrong to dump trash in other people's dumpsters.
Certainly. If you look at signs for dumpsters on private property, they often have signs on them saying
"no dumping" and in our community, you can be prosecuted for it, although, like littering, people
rarely are. Trash hauling is a business expense and it is for the business's customers. I have
seen gas stations that also have "no dumping" signs. We have a similarly disgusting situation in
Columbus, Ohio. I live in a central city where trash hauling is paid for by our taxes, and
recycling is optional, but you have to pay for it. The fancy suburbs nearby charge for every garbage bag
picked up, recycling is mandatory, and you have to pay for it. Therefore, the rich people stick
their garbage in the trunks of their Benz's and Lexus's and sneak over to the other side of the
tracks to dump their trash in our dumpsters. The suburbs charge by selling a sticker their residents
have to put on their trash bags, and the suburb will not pick up any trash bag that does not have
the sticker. Every time Upper Arlington or Marble Cliff raises the price of their trash sticker,
we in Columbus have more late night runs of luxury cars sneaking over to our household dumpsters. Of course,
we pay for their trash in our taxes.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jeff,
"Sometimes being right can be a lot of work." But you forgot the other issue here - the one that I think is really driving it. Being right when a mother-in-law you clearly dislike is shown to be in the wrong - priceless!

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey,

For years I took out the rollout trash containers at the pools in our community. That included rounding up the playground area trash cans first, which I emptied into the rollouts. Every so often I would find a plastic bag or bags of trash stuffed in one of these cans or containers - obviously not just stuff generated on the spot. Somebody was saving money by not having to pay for a pick-up at their home. Maybe they went to different places to dump each week; I don’t know.

Dealing with somebody else’s trash was a nuisance (sometimes there was more than the can could hold), but since there wasn’t an extra cost to the homeowners association, not much was done to address the matter. We didn’t have to buy more containers/cans because of the problem - but that was only because not that many people were contributing to the problem. But if lots more people saw a “free ride” and considered their dumping as justified because they think that businesses have deep pockets (at least deeper than the dumper’s are), then there would be a price to pay indeed. Local businesses with small profit margins would have to raise prices, work longer hours, or go out of business.

The first responder to your column kind of pushed the limits of how to draw a line, there being so many variables that it would make a municipality’s elected officials jobs all but impossible. Anyone who dumps his/her trash somewhere else is doing it either to save money or time, and generally doesn’t care whether or not it costs somebody else money or time. Even if it doesn’t, I agree with you: the act is morally wrong. The “me mentality” always is.


Phil Clutts
Harrisburg, NC

Anonymous said...

AFTER READING YOUR ARTICLE IN TODAYS OC REGISTER I HAVE THOUGHTS TO SHARE. I TOO HAD TO MAKE A DECISION CONCERNING TRASH DUMPING UP IN THE LOCAL MOUNTAINS. MY HUSBAND AND I OWN A CABIN ON 6 ACRES AND ON EVERY TRIP UP THE
MOUNTAIN, I PICK UP TRASH THAT HAS BEEN DISCARDED ON OUR PROPERTY. MOST THE TIME IT DOESN'T FILL A BIG TRASH BAG BUT WE USUALLY HAVE TO MAKE ONE TRIP A YEAR TO THE DUMP (TIRES, BBQ, SPA, REMODELING DISCARDS, ETC.) WE USUALLY
DRIVE AN ENCLOSED VAN AND ARE FORTUNATE TO TAKE ALL OUR TRASH HOME WITHOUT HESITATION. WE DO NOT WANT TO LEAVE OUR BAGGED TRASH OUT FRONT ON THE STREET DUE TO ANIMALS GETTING INTO IT AND MAKING A BIGGER MESS. WE PAY OUR
TAXES WHICH I AM ASSUMING INCLUDES TRASH PICK-UP. I WAS NEVER NOTIFIED BY THE CITY WHEN WE FIRST PURCHASED OUR PROPERTY, THAT I NEEDED TO SIGN UP TO TRASH SERVICE. ON THIS PARTICULAR WEEK-END WE DROVE AN OPEN-BED TRUCK UP.
RATHER THAN TAKE THE CHANCE OF THIS COLLECTED TRASH BLOWING OUT THE BACK OF THE TRUCK, LEAVING A NEW MESS ALONG THE HIGHWAY, WE CHOSE TO DUMP THE TRASH IN A BIN IN THE CITY. WE FOUND A BIN AT THE MIDDLE SCHOOL AND REASONED THAT
IT WAS A GOVERNMENT OWNED BIN AND NOT ABUSING A LOCAL BUSINESS. WE ACTUALLY FELT LIKE WE ACTED IN A VERY RESPONSIBLE MANNER AND HAVE NO GUILT IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM.

Anonymous said...

Hello Right Thing...

Your article re: Trash Disposal at Weekend Retreat struck a chord with me.

You should advise the folks who stayed at the cabin (or owner if they were just guests) to look at their property tax bill. Most 'retreat' communities include $$ to cover this service at the local trash holding facility.

At our second home in Idyllwild CA we pay for this service. Although we normally take our recycling home (in the covered pickup bed) we use our paid facility in Idyllwild for green and regular trash. No need to dump trash in the 'town bin'. Only drawback for us as second home owners is that the facility is closed two days a week, which has occasionally caused us to carry all of our trash back to home base if we happen to exit on one of the closed days.

Ron & Kathy Beaufort

lytebulb2002 said...

I have a question rather than a comment.....Where in the heck are the local dumps located and how do you find them? There are apparently 1000's of truck drivers who advertise the service of picking up and hauling away your unwanted items.....but where do they take it to? I can't find any info anywhere (phone book, google, city website) as to where in the world these stupid dumps are. I am looking for one in Columubus, OH and one in Delaware, OH. Can anyone help?

Can reader turn lost vacation into charitable deduction?

The reports of the effects of Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico were devastating. Electricity lost. Homes destroyed and streets flo...