Sunday, June 25, 2017

Honestly getting rid of broken glass

For several weeks, A.L., a reader from Massachusetts, was looking for old-fashioned penny candy containers she could use to hold candy at a summer family event at her house. She checked several independent retail shops in her hometown first, but had no luck. Then she moved on to check some larger chain stores to see what they had to offer. Still nothing.

Nevertheless, she persisted. Finally, she found just what she was looking for from an online store.

A.L. needed five containers, but if she ordered six she would get free shipping. Since the cost of the additional container just about equaled what the shipping cost would have been, she ordered six and, over the next few days, waited for her package to arrive.

When the package did arrive, the containers were exactly what she ordered, except that two of the glass containers were shattered and broken. She called customer service and was assured that two replacement containers would be sent. When she asked if she had to return the broken containers, the customer service representative told her just to dispose of them herself.

"So now I have a box of broken glass that I need to dispose of," writes A.L.

Since rummagers regularly make their way through her recycling and trash looking for returnable bottles and cans, A.L. is concerned that simply tossing out the broken containers might result in a rummager or a sanitation worker getting cut. She wants to keep the large box the containers came in so she can store the containers when they are not in use.

A.L. knows that there are a couple of dumpsters in her neighborhood on sites where houses are being renovated.

"Do I mark the barrel I put the containers in 'broken glass?' " A.L. asks, "or do I use one of my neighbors' dumpsters to dump the glass even though I haven't asked permission?"

Her municipality might have some specific regulation about disposing of broken glass, but since it is not hazardous waste, A.L. should focus on disposing of the glass in the safest way possible.

Placing broken glass directly into her trash barrel doesn't seem the safest route even if she does mark the barrel "broken glass." Better might be to place the broken glass in a paper bag and then securely duct tape the bag shut and perhaps put that bag into another bag for even more safety. She then should be able to put the glass out with her recycling.

If A.L. does decide to put the glass in a neighbors' dumpster, she should ask permission to use the dumpster. While others may freely toss trash into a neighboring dumpster, it still belongs to someone else.

It's good that A.L. is concerned about getting rid of broken glass without causing harm to others. The right thing is both to make sure that she disposes of it safely, but also to make sure to ask and receive permission if she plans to dispose of it on someone else's property. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Joe Read, Anaheim said...

When I read this excruciating tale of anguish, I checked my calendar to see if it wasn't April Fool's Day. Worrying about broken glass in a trash dumpster?
Holy Fragility, Batman!!

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