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Trash OverlordsINTRO

Apologies in advance for the multi-part article. It did not start as such but sometimes the issue is larger than its planned size.


Roman sewage systems are arguably one of the biggest wonders of the ancient world. They used running water powered by nothing more than gravity to flush excrement and urine out from the cities. Most sewers were connected to public latrines and baths but a few houses belonging to rich people also had direct connections. Many sewage systems had cesspools which were the predecessors of septic tanks and allowed for the separation of solid from semi-solid and liquid waste. In this manner, Romans prevented Cloacas from being plugged. Romans also recycled bath water by using it as extra flushing water. Of course, the system wasn't perfect since Roman citizens had the tendency of throwing trash on the streets or accumulating it in empty lots between houses. Some of these mountains of trash were so big that required steps and sometimes houses were actually built on top of the pile. Most of these sewage systems were built by either paid labourers, slaves or soldiers, which is to say by public labour. Labourers were hands for hire paid by the state, slaves had to be rented from their owners who received payment from the state and soldiers were also paid by the state. All these payments came from taxes (and sometimes currency debasement -inflation- which Roman governments practiced too).


What is of interest to us is that even at this early stage (beginning at approximately 800 BC or about 2800 years ago) Romans already managed to offload public duties on private citizens. In Rome there were laws dictating that human excrement from houses had to be dumped into sewers but not necessarily other types of trash. In other words, why extend sewers to private homes if it was easier to force homeowners to transport human waste to sewers (or more precisely, to force homeowners' slaves to perform this hapless job). This is the earliest trash classification and separation edict in human history known with certainty. The practice of offloading onto people has thus a long tradition behind it.


Over time -and as ecologic trends became "sexy" political issues- politicians and bureaucrats began to expand their rule over our lives through the expedient use of offloading policies. If you have the disgrace of inhabiting any developed or semi-developed country, you are already familiar with all the trash classification, separation, careful treatment, packaging and submission for collection. We have been transformed from trash generators into trash processors! And the question is Why?

If you take the time to review the rules and regulations that your so-called community (what a joke) imposes on you regarding trash, you will notice that more often than not the instructions are so complex and convoluted that even a lawyer would have problems interpreting them.

Collection dates

In many countries trash collection happens on certain dates of the week on certain areas of the city or neighbourhood on certain streets. Oftentimes you are provided with a calendar or schedule that specifies when is trash going to be collected (day of the week), between which hours of the day (if you are late too bad), at which time of the previous day at the earliest you may deposit your trash on the curb or larger containers, what happens if there is a holyday, weekend, weather problem or whatever other phenomenon that may have the potential to disrupt the collection. The instructions read more or less like this.

"Your trash will be collected on every second Wednesday of every odd month or every second Friday on even months. This schedule does not apply in summer when the collection will happen every one and half weeks on Tuesdays and Wednesdays/Fridays of consecutive weeks unless there is severe rain. In the event of inclement weather the collection will take place on the subsequent day unless a Friday in which case it will be switched to the nearest collection date unless this date is farther from 7 days in which case the collection will take place on the next week day unless a holyday. During winter collections may be delayed up to 7 days due to inclement weather or insufficient processing capacity. Notification will be issued in the local newspaper or through our website in the event of changes. Recyclable materials of metallic nature will be collected separately every third week between Spring and Fall but only monthly in Winter. Large metallic items must be called in and will be collected on a best-effort only on pre-arranged days and times. Paper-related waste products will be collected every second month (the first non-weekend Friday) along with compostable items which will also have extra collection dates that may synchronize with normal trash collection when possible. At least 24 hours of previous notification will be given. Other recyclable materials will be collected every three months during specially selected dates which in principle are determined to be the first Wednesdays unless they coincide with normal garbage collection in which case they will be transferred to the second Wednesday…"

And on and on and on. You get the idea.

Basically it translates as follows: we will collect when we feel like it and we may actually tell you when; if not, you are out of luck.


Trash would seem is more dangerous than spent nuclear reactor fuel. There are all kinds of "special containers" that may only be used to submit certain kinds of trash. We have containers for "normal" (i.e non-compostable) trash, for "compostable" trash, for metallic trash, for paper trash, for plastic trash, for garden trash, for "toxic" trash, for "industrial" trash and many other classifications. These containers must have certain specifications as to length, height, width, shape, material, colour and weight.

In some places they will "give" you such containers "for free" (sure, like they are not paid for by your taxes) and in some others you may purchase them at hardware stores despite the fact that you already paid taxes for trash removal.

Many of such containers have sub-container specifications. For example, "compostable" trash must only be deposited in "compostable" bags, paper in cardboard boxes, recyclable plastics only in certain types of plastic boxes and so on. Going a step forward and without sounding crass, you would do well in remembering that there are even rules and regulations specifying trash containers for human beings. That's right, coffins are exceedingly regulated!

Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.

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