Sunday, May 11, 2008


In a suburban neighborhood in Texas, residents roll out their trash receptacles for curbside pickup each week. Each residence is permitted three cans' worth of trash, with any extra incurring an additional charge.

Excess trash is supposed to be placed in sturdy trash bags and tagged with a sticker that can be purchased for $2 at the local grocery store. If the bags are untagged, the city adds a $2.50-per-bag charge to the resident's monthly bill.

One of my readers lives in that neighborhood, and she keeps a supply of stickers on hand for those times when her household has excess trash.

"The problem," she writes, "is that my husband thinks it is fine to take our excess trash bag and place it in one of the neighbor's half-empty trash cans, once they have been rolled onto the street."

One of the neighbors, described by my reader as "a crotchety woman who never speaks to us or makes eye contact," has taken issue with the husband's practice.

"We've lived here for 13 years," my reader writes, "and only had one conversation with her. She never waves like the other neighbors or steps to our yard to chat like other neighbors do. We just accept it and go on."

Until now.

After the husband put trash in her receptacle, the neighbor took the trash out of the can, held onto it until the sanitation truck had come and gone, and then placed the trash bag on top of the husband's car.

Later in the day the neighbor went to my reader's house and began to "rant and rave" at her, she says. She denounced the husband and made clear that she was sick of him putting his trash in her cans.

"Couldn't you just pay the $2 for excess trash or get a bigger trash can, instead of stinking up my trash can with your trash?" the neighbor asked. "I will report him to the authorities if he is ever observed doing this again."

My reader apologized for upsetting her neighbor and said that she would talk to her husband, but the situation still irritates her -- especially because her husband is adamant that there is nothing wrong with what he does.

"I happen to agree with her that it is inappropriate," she writes. "But the way she handled it was inappropriate, in my opinion."

My reader's husband is wrong. The right thing for him to do would be to ask permission of any neighbors before putting his extra trash in their cans. It's the neighborly thing to do, and the ethical thing as well. That their neighbor is aloof and uncommunicative doesn't in any way justify his intrusion into her trash.

Was the neighbor right to put the trash bag on top of the husband's car? Well, it did get his attention, and some people might have emptied it over the car. But it seems like an overreaction: The neighbor's right response would have been to simply tell the husband that she knows he's been making the unwelcome deposits and ask him to stop.

My reader would rather simply use the $2 stickers and not upset her neighbor. She should do exactly that -- and her husband should respect her wishes and do the right thing as well.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


yawningdog said...

Where we live everyone has one large garbage can. In the past, we have had extra garbage and just asked the neighbors if we can place it in their cans. We have no 'extra garbage' option with our system. This always worked out pretty well, we take their extra stuff on occasion and they take ours.

The original mistake was not asking prior to dumping in the neighbor's garbage can. If she said 'yes', then I believe it would have been fine from then on. If she said 'no', they should have used the tags.

The neighbor was probably wrong for flipping out at the wife, but the original sin belongs with the husband. He should go over an apologize in person and promise to never do it again.

Anonymous said...

I guess we have come to a pretty place in our development as neighbors when the difficulty as described here can in any way be blamed on the neighbor who reacted negatively and put the garbage bag on the offending neighbor's car. Clearly, the reacting neighbor was being a sorehead, but she only became a sorehead when the unthinking and crass husband took it upon himself the privilege of putting his trash into his neighbor's trash collector, just because he wanted to. This situation is a non-issue, the person who sent the complaint to this column seemed to believe there was some justification in her husband's actions when the neighbor reacted badly, when clearly, the whole thing was caused by her husband's lousy attitude.


Anonymous said...

This is ridiculous. What difference does it make to the woman if he puts trash in her trash to be picked up? Big deal!It's all trash and it's ludicrous that she gets upset. Granted, it would have been more polite if he had said something to her, but regardless, its not hurting her in any way.

Anonymous said...

I was amused and a bit saddened when I read your article trash talk. I had to wonder how people can get so caught up in such trivial things in life. Life is short shorter than most think. Soon that neighbor might not be there anymore. Do those two neighbors remember there is still a war going on? My opinion is this those two neighbors should be happy that things are so in there lives that small things like garbage and 2 stamps matter. I know the economy is tough and I know men like to stand by their principles, but I also know you have to drive past your neighbor everyday and one day you may really need them. Disrespecting someone by not asking and disrespecting someone by placing garbage on their car..come on people. I'm a father of two who is recovering from my 11th surgery in 6 months from a MC accident. ill tell you this if you were in my shoes that trash wouldn't matter any more than the contents in the bag.

Brian Gorman
Rossmoor California (orange County)
OC register
Love your Column

Anonymous said...

Liked your column about the trash situation. I live alone in a big house and have a large trash bin that is almost always only hall full when I roll it out to the street Wednesday night for the early Thursday morning pick-up.

Every so often I'll take something out early Thursday morning and discover my trash bin is full. I'm almost positive my next door neighbors are using it, but so what? They're a large Asian family of hard workers, they're nice and quiet and their grandma is out there every morning tending their beautiful flower beds.

And if they asked, I'd say go ahead and do it. I have enough to worry about without fussing over whether my trash bin is full or only half-full when the truck comes around. It's not a concern in my life.

It doesn't cost me anything, imposes no burdens on me or require me to go out of my way and do anything extra. So what's the big deal? In fact, several years ago when their water line sprung a leak on a Sunday, I went over, dug it up and repaired it for them. For free. And they didn't even ask me to do it.

But the idea of extra trash in my bin? Ideas doesn't hurt anyone. Whatever happened to the concept of neighbor helping neighbor? Last night my other neighbor borrowed my five gallon propane tank so he could barbecue when his ran out. He could have run down to Home Depot and gotten another one, but had already put meat on the grill and didn't want to take the time. Only cost me pennies.

I think one problem is that neighbors don't know each other much any more. Or help each other. Instead, they take their other frustrations in life out on them because that's their only outlet. Can't do anything about rising gas prices, so I think I'll yell at my neighbor for doing something that doesn't really affect me at all.

Burl Estes
Mission Viejo, CA

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the timing of your article!! You must have been listening to our conversation.

I was having a heated conversation with my mother about a contractor(a house is being built across from my parent's house) dumping the trash into my mother's trash bin. My mother could have been that "crotchety woman".The contractor dumped the trash right in front of my mom. My mother was so livid she couldn't speak. I took the writer's husband side explaining to my mother "maybe he had no place to put the trash and my mother's trash was only half full". Mother stated she was going to take out the trash and dump it on the neighbor's property. She ended up speaking with the contractor's supervisor who took care of the issue.I was trying to get mom to see the perspective from the contractor but she would have none of it and was becoming angry all over again. I didn't want to press the issue as it was Mother's Day and my father provided the food.
I will be giving my wonderful mother this article!! Thank you!! Hopefully your article won't upset my mom!!

Neal Kawasaki from Orange, California.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Seglin:

I am writing with regard to your column in the Sunday, May 11, 2008, edition of the Columbus Dispatch. The subject of this column was trash collection in Texas.

I do not have a problem with your suggestion, as I interpret it, that both parties were acting inappropriately (that's a great word by the way, covering a multitude of sins without being too specific. I tend to overuse it . . . but my writing style really isn't the point here . . . sorry).

You stated that "[t]he right thing for [the husband] to do would be to ask the permission of any neighbors before putting his extra trash in their cans. It's the neighborly and ethical thing to do."

At this point I have to disclose that I suffer from the disadvantage of being an attorney/CPA with 30+ years as that bane of our society, the career civil servant (or is that two banes? Or three?). I don't know what public policy decisions were the basis for the financial structure of the trash collection system in question, or the specific terms of the city ordinances or other applicable legal requirements. It is possible that placing trash in another's receptacle or allowing another to place trash in your receptacle is contrary to the underlying public policy objectives, or illegal, or both. Is the governmental entity due the $2 per bag per resident in excess of that resident's specified three trash cans? Or is even asking this question evidence of the narrow mindset of a pettifogging attorney/bureaucrat?

If you were to ask the local officials, their reaction could easily range from sending out the trash police with handcuffs or indicating they don't "give two hoots and a holler" as long as to the total amount of trash collected doesn't exceed a number of cans equal to 3 x the number of customers (I do suspect, however, that the applicable regulations specify the maximum size of a trash can; otherwise, the potential for abuse is obvious).

Personally, if I were the miscreant husband, I would pay the $2. If I were the neighbor, I would find out if the governmental unit had a policy on point, and, if they had no problem, would tell the husband to go ahead.

Thanks, by the way, for your column. I read it regularly and frequently find nuances in the situations discussed that would never have occurred to me.

Bill Severns