A fear that I share with many of my girlfriends is that we will end up one of those stereotypical cat food-eating poor old women, especially those of us who took time from work to stay home and look after kids and things. Me, I lost some of my peak earning years when I quit a great job to move to another city because it was what my ex-husband needed to do for his career. I played the wife, mother, hostess, shopper, and a whole bunch of other unpaid roles. It cost me who knows how much in salary and RSPs.
I was lucky. I managed to get back into the workforce -- at The Star -- and recover some of the lost ground. But many women never do. This despite their talent, determination, education and readiness to work, and work hard. And, if the marriages break up, they are often up the proverbial creek without a decent pension.
Of course, things are much better than they used to be for women on their own, thanks to the fact that so many do work outside of the home for pay. They are not dependent so much on their husbands. And though they suffer from the stress of having to handle so much, they can take comfort in knowing that, if push comes to shove, they can take care of themselves.
But still ...
I have to say that, every time I see an exhausted-looking woman pushing a shopping cart loaded with garbage bags of stuff, I think, ''There by the grace of ... ''
Which brings me to today's treeware column, about the woman who comes around every two weeks to collect the empty liquor and beer bottles from our recyclables. For the past year or so, they've been worth 10 or 20 cents each at the Beer Store, a move which is aimed at keeping them out of the landfill sites and lessening the load in the blue bins.
But, thanks to the city's new megabins, those who supplement their income by picking up what we throw away are being tossed off.
I don't know her name. I only know that she always comes around mid-morning, after we've hauled our stuff to the street and before the trucks have passed.
She always has what strikes me as a furtive and embarrassed look as she paws through the bins picking out the booze bottles, good for nickels and dimes when she returns them to the Beer Store.
We Riverdalers can't be bothered, I guess.
Middle-aged and neatly groomed, she can't be doing this for fun, scavenging through our peanut butter jars, looking for empty bottles of pinot grigio at 20 cents a pop.
That's why I always made a point of leaving my empties at the top of my recyclables, separate, where she could easily find them.
But now it's different.
With this new system, everything is a jumble. And the bins are deep. Most of their contents will always be more than an arm's length away. If she were to reach down, the damn things could topple.
She doesn't look as if she could handle that. Which could explain why her bundle buggy seemed emptier than usual on Wednesday.
Maybe there really was something left in the bins' wake after all.
Human debris, blown off by the winds of change.
The column struck a chord with many readers who said that picking through the recyclables is, strictly speaking, stealing...from the city. As one ''dumpster diver'' reader wrote to me:
There's an easy way out of this dilemma: if residents place
deposit-return bottles (wine and liquor bottles) *beside* they recycling
bins, they are easier for scavengers to find and avoid the question of
who 'owns' them. It is also easy to make an arrangement with a scavenger
you know to leave bottles in an accessible location elsewhere. At twenty
cents per bottle, the return is not huge, but it is an important income
source for economically marginalized residents.
In fact, according to this in last year's Eye Weekly, written by the aforementioned reader and her husband:
(W)e question Toronto’s blanket prohibition of scavenging because those it “outlaws” are often already in socially and economically precarious positions, including the poor and homeless, elderly, disabled and others excluded from Toronto’s conventional relations of production and consumption. For many Torontonians, scavenging is an important subsistence strategy.
Historian Susan Strasser observes in Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash that “what is rubbish to some is useful or valuable to others, and the ones who perceive value are nearly always the ones with less money.” At a time when our wants have produced a nearly insurmountable surplus of waste, Sasser’s comment is especially telling because it suggests that acts of salvage can reframe our notions of value. How might they do so? In part, by reminding us that our waste may be the truest mirror of our own character.
Me, I have decided not to retire my old blue box. From now on, it's going to be my booze bottle bin. I won't put it out all the time -- hey, I don't drink that much -- but, when I do, it will be full.
I hope you do something similar.