Sunday, July 25, 2021

Two recycling stories and one good neighbor

I received two recycling stories this week from readers in different parts of the country.

The first is from a reader we’re calling Glen. Typically, during a week when a holiday falls, the neighborhood recycling is picked up a day later than the regular schedule. But the week after the Fourth of July, Glen was surprised to hear the recycling truck drive past his house on the regular pickup day. Glen had not put his recycling out but in his neighborhood he knows the truck makes its way up his side of the long street he lives on and then turns around and makes its way back down the other side.

Rather than miss out on the pickup, Glen texted an across-the-street neighbor to ask if he was OK with Glen rolling his recycling bin over to his house for pickup. “Sure,” the neighbor texted back letting Glen know they were out of town anyway. Since it was rainy out, the neighbor asked Glen if he could switch off the irrigation timer on his faucet so the lawn wouldn’t be watered during the rain.

Glen’s recycling got picked up. His neighbor’s lawn wasn’t over watered and all was well between neighbors.

Seven-hundred-and-thirty miles away, another reader (this one we’re calling Paula) was having her own recycling rendezvous with a neighbor.

“We live next door to a couple with whom we have a friendly, though not social, relationship,” Paula writes. “One of them told my husband recently that they had a number of cardboard boxes to dispose of and wondered if we had any space in our recycling rollout container, which the town comes by to empty every other week.” Paula’s husband told the neighbor they had plenty of room and that they could put in the boxes when they saw their container out for pickup.

The next morning Paula looked out her window and saw the recycling container with the lid open and overflowing with boxes that were not broken down and flattened as their town requests them to be. Fortunately, the recycling truck operators emptied the container in spite of the “irregularity.”

“I was a little concerned at what the neighbors in our small community thought of our apparent laziness and noncompliance with the rules as they walked or drove by,” Paula writes, wondering what to do if the neighbor should make a similar request in the future.

The neighbor was wrong not to breakdown the boxes. If Paula was overly concerned with what the neighbors thought, I suppose she or her husband could have gone out and broken down the boxes, but they shouldn’t have had to. If the neighbors make a similar request in the future, the right thing would be to simply say no, but if they agree then they would be wise to make a point of asking the neighbors to breakdown any boxes they place in their recycling bin and not to put more in the bins then will fit and enable the cover to close. The right thing would be for the neighbors to thank Paula and comply, something they should have done anyway without having to be asked. Sometimes, however, people need to be reminded of how to be a good neighbor.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior 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 to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 


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