On Garbage Chutes and My Personal Struggle to Prevent the Collapse of Civilization


My building has a garbage chute on each floor, meaning that when I need to empty my trash, I can walk down the hall, pull open a small spring-loaded door, toss in my garbage, and be done with it. Now to clarify, the garbage chute isn’t really a “chute”, but rather it’s basically a small hole in the wall which opens into a large well which the trash falls through, collecting in the basement, presumably in some kind of dumpster or container for collection, but I’ve never been down there, so I can’t say for certain (for all I know, the super goes down to the basement every night, tosses a match into the pit and walks away).

So essentially, we’re tossing our garbage into a giant, building-sized wastebin. Theoretically, there’s nothing especially complicated about the way the garbage chute operates: you open the door, toss the garbage in, and it falls to the bottom. However, this presents a number of minor but apparently significant logistical challenges for some of my neighbors.

Firstly, the “chute” is rather small; disposing of a normal-sized (13-gallon) kitchen trash bag requires a moderate bit of effort to squeeze into the opening, and then more than likely you’ll need to give it a bit of a shove to get it through the chute; otherwise, it’ll stay lodged in the middle of the chute until the next poor hapless bastard, who always seems to be me, comes along and has to clear it before I can throw out my own goddamned trash.

Secondly, and even more annoying, there’s a small ledge at the end of the chute where it opens into the giant communal trash well. If you’re tossing out a smaller garbage bag, there’s a marginal but significant possibility that it’ll land on the ledge and remain there until it either naturally disintegrates or the next poor hapless bastard, who always seems to be me, comes along and shoves it off the ledge.

There’s nothing especially complicated about forestalling either of these events, other than adding a minimal bit of additional effort, but often as not, when I open the garbage chute, my neighbors’ goddamned trash is waiting there to greet me with a metaphorical 2-ply middle finger.

As far as I’m concerned, there are two possible explanations for this. It’s possible that some of my neighbors have a very fundamental misunderstanding of how the trash chute works and are under the mistaken impression that some higher power, mystical or technical, will make the trash disappear once they’ve shut the door. There are a lot of old people in my building, so I can’t completely discount that possibility.

Otherwise, and far more likely, it’s simply the case that once the trash chute door has closed and the trash has officially left their physical possession, they consider that their obligation to responsibly dispose of the trash has been met, and therefore any unintended consequences are clearly someone else’s fucking problem. The argument could be made that it’s a seemingly innocuous offense, but in so doing, they’re clearly screwing over the next person in line, and so in that regard, my neighbors (the guilty ones, at least) are basically no better than the assholes who piss on public toilet seats.

I live in a co-op building. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, a co-op is essentially a neighborhood association with a god-complex. Or more specifically, it’s a confederation of apartment owners who have banded together to create a formal organization tasked with making sure that the building doesn’t go to shit. But much more importantly, it’s essentially a microcosm of a functioning “civilization” where a group of people have voluntarily come together to agree on the rules which will govern their society and establish social order and have vested certain officials with the power to execute and enforce those rules.

Theoretically, I could appeal to the System and raise the issue with our council of elders (otherwise known as the co-op board), but at best, all I would get is a piece of paper taped to the garbage chute which advises residents to make certain their trash is pushed all the way through, which residents would then categorically ignore just as they routinely ignore the sign in the basement telling them to clean the fucking lint-trap in the dryer when they’re finished with it.

Therefore, there’s not a whole hell of a lot of good it would do unless they decided to install cameras to catch the bastards and exact some sort of punitive measure, which I’m not opposed to, but that’s probably not going to happen. And thus, we come to the critical part in maintaining an orderly society, in which rules and enforcement are relatively meaningless unless members consciously choose to accept and abide by the social contract they’ve agreed to.

Now I haven’t read through the entirety of the co-op by-laws, so I can’t verify that there is or isn’t any policy that explicitly outlines proper trash chute conduct, but being a member of this or any civilization naturally goes beyond the explicit letter of the law and at least heavily implies that you’ve agreed not to be an inconsiderate asshole to your neighbors.

When my downstairs neighbor comes up to complain about the volume of my music or television, I cheerfully comply and turn it down without argument, even though I’ve already gone so far as to completely disconnect my subwoofer and permanently turn the bass on my receiver to an absurdly meek level, although it is a scientific fact that as people age, their body compensates for the normal loss of hearing by developing a sonar-like capability that automatically triggers a response in the brain whenever it detects sound waves within a 100-foot radius that indicates someone is enjoying themselves at a volume which they instinctively disapprove of, even if they can’t actually fucking hear it.

But more importantly, I make it a point to act as a good neighbor even if my actions or lack thereof don’t have an immediate or apparent impact on others, such as making certain that my garbage goes all the way through the chute or picking up the boxes that spilled over when some asshole overfilled the recycle bin.

This is not to say that I do these things because I am a wonderful, altruistic individual (although I can’t rule that out), but rather, I consider myself a humble foot-soldier in the battle to maintain the thin front line against the encroaching forces of social upheaval. And thus, it’s not so much about being a nice guy, so much as feeling duty-bound to uphold my end of the social contract and maintain the delicate balance that keeps civilization from tipping into chaos.

But make no mistake; when the social order does collapse and anarchy reigns, I will cheerfully drink my wine from the hollowed-out and polished skulls of my neighbors while I listen to my TV as loud as a I goddamned-well please. But until that day, I will continue to bring my broom with me when I take out the trash so I can clear away my neighbors’ garbage and thereby do my small part in preventing the collapse of civilization.

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