One of my household duties is garbage and recycling maintenance. Each week I announce when I’m about to bring everything to the curb with the heroic flair of someone going into a burning house to save a goldfish. Nobody really listens, but it’s the work itself that fulfills me.

Last month, I tossed a bag onto the back porch and it actually bounced because it was full of plastic bottles we accumulated when the water service was interrupted. Somehow a broken pipe all the way over on Buford Highway left us with no water for a day and a boil water advisory for another. But who wants to drink boiling water? By time I got to the store the generic brands were all gone so among other uses, I was filling the dog’s bowl with Evian for a couple days.

When we lived in Cabbagetown our neighbor’s recycling bin was always perfectly full of empty water bottles and nothing else. I debated buying her a bottle of wine to mix things up or at least a Brita, but then I would have to admit I was overanalyzing her recycling habits. Before the kids were born, Kristen and I could get through the week with a tidy, albeit much more varied, amount to fit in one of those little bins. But when Elliott and Margo came along we needed to step up to the varsity level because kids come with an awful lot of packaging. So I called the City of Atlanta several times to request one of the big wheelie-bins for the weekly haul.

I exhaled when our first one was finally delivered because our curb presence each week had the aesthetic of an eviction. When the city brought us a second one, I thought, “Cool, we could use that, too.” Then the third and fourth bins came – one for each phone call. I suppose. So when we moved to Decatur, I left two in Cabbagetown and brought two of them with me. The movers double-checked with me: “You sure you want these smelly cans on the truck?” Yes. Yes, I do.

People may tire of hearing that Decatur is Greater for its schools and restaurants, but I will offer that Decatur may in fact, be greener. I know this, because my garbage bags cost a fortune. The city won’t pick up the garbage unless it is in one of the approved bags and a roll of 10 large ones costs about $15. The net result is that Decaturites recycle with gusto and try like heck to get all the week’s garbage into a single, sanctioned, refuse bag. Two bags and either you are spring cleaning or a failure.

Our pickup day is Thursday, so each Wednesday I scan the house for recyclable materials. In addition to our usual stockpile of aluminum, plastic and Honey-Nut Cheerios boxes, Margo might have scraps of construction paper and poster board from various projects. And Elliott probably won’t need all those school worksheets anymore, right? Kristen often has an empty shoebox that I so badly want to recycle but a still pending keep/return decision slows my roll. I’ll contribute a stack of newspapers and magazines. It can be bittersweet if I haven’t read the Krugman article yet, but sometimes tough decisions need to be made.

When I walk the dog on Wednesday evenings I size up the street’s offerings. I mean, how can I not notice when the “Dennisons” buy yet another flat screen TV or that the “Petersons” had a Jagermeister party they didn’t invite us to? Honestly, I’m most suspicious of the people whose bin is sparsely adorned. Am I supposed to believe that you spent the entire week eating homemade preserves and washing it down with olive oil? C’mon now. We’re all in this together so there’s no need to hide the evidence. Recycle like no one is watching.

Tim Sullivan grew up in a large family in the Northeast and now lives with his small family in Oakhurst. He can be reached at

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