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Garbage Watch

By Charlie Gibson · July 22nd, 2009 · Living Out Loud
A little more than a year ago, I moved to South Korea to teach English to spoiled kindergartners. I was crammed into a small box apartment in the outskirts of Seoul furnished with only a mattress and a television I found in the trash.

Every couple days, I would go to the store and stare at the packages trying to decipher the coded text and figure out what was inside. I mostly stuck to vegetables and products in the “American” section like A1 Steak Sauce and Ragu.

Due to the enormous amounts of food waste I produced in a week, my garbage can started to stink to high heaven, which is really high. Flies the size of Jeff Goldblum took up most of the space in my tiny Hello Kitty garbage can.

As the weeks went by, I started to notice that near the entrance of every single building in Korea was a “Garbage Watcher” who watches people take out their trash during the day, ensuring efficiency and respect for the dumpster.

Since I was busy trying to finish the American Film Institute’s top 100, I rarely went out during the day and usually took out my trash late at night, so I never had to deal with the shifty eyes of garbage man.

But one time I forgot to take out the trash at night and was forced to take it down before I left for work in the afternoon. As I walked outside, the Garbage Watcher walked toward me, locking eyes with mine. He began to mumble in what I assumed was Korean and started flailing his arms around like a comedian doing an impression of an Italian person.

I kind of freaked out, because the Korean language sounds like a combination of yelling and grunts, which is very scary to a white boy.

He then grabbed my bag from me, ripped it open and started sorting out my trash.

I watched him pick through my food waste, used Q-Tips and several other unmentionables with his bare hands. He then tossed my different types of trash into separate trashcans and moved on to separate my recyclables.

In South Korea the citizens are urged/forced to separate their garbage into color-coded bags that represent the various types of waste. A green bag is for food compost and a white bag exists for everything else that cannot be recycled.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, doesn’t provide any type of food composting option for garbage collecting. Even the plastics in the recycling program are limited to only accepting 1s and 2s. Like so many other things, Cincinnati is behind the times in waste management. Other cities base their garbage fees on how much people put out for pickup. The more you put out, the more it will cost you to have it hauled away. And since people love money more than protecting the environment, it really makes their brains think about how much (money) they’re throwing away.

After moving back to Cincinnati, it was very easy to fall back into the excessive, wasteful American way. When springtime rolled around this year, my girlfriend and I started composting with our landlord/friend (but landlord first and foremost). Not only would composting provide us with soil rich in nutrients for our fire-escape garden but it would also keep our garbage can from reeking of rotting fruits and vegetables.

After a week of composting, I noticed that the smell coming from the trash didn’t change. I was certain I wasn’t tossing any food products in the trash anymore. I made sure all the containers in the recycling bin were properly rinsed out to ensure they weren’t releasing any rank stench. But for some reason, the smell just wouldn’t go away.

Then one day as I was pulling out the trash bag, I noticed something in the bottom of the can. Inside was a cream-colored pool of gunk marinating in the bottom of the receptacle. Floating in the pool was rotting lettuce, what appeared to be a tomato and half a lime that resembled the skin of an avocado.

I gagged in horror but was simultaneously relieved because I had found the cause of the funk that plagued our tiny apartment for so long.

I got out the Formula 409 to spray down the entire can from inside out and the epic battle between chemicals and bacteria began. As the chemicals triumphed, I ever so carefully scraped out the fungus that would no longer be taking up residence in our receptacle.

Now our apartment is back to its original 1890s house odor and our trashcan isn’t toppling over with banana peels and apple cores. Our compost soil will be added to our garden, and soon the tomatoes and green peppers will be ready for consumption.

Even though I enjoy composting, many people don’t know anything about it, and I think the city of Cincinnati and Rumpke should provide a service for food compost. It would be better for our city, and perhaps we could even put that compost to use in our communities.

Perhaps we could ship it around to all the schools to educate children on the importance of composting and gardening. When it comes to something as simple as garbage, do we really want to be behind South Korea? A country that still eats dog?

CONTACT CHARLIE GIBSON: letters@citybeat.com



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