All around the streets of our bit of New York I have noticed men in bright blue trousers and jackets emblazoned with the phrase ‘ready, willing and able’. There is a reference to the Doe Fund, which I assumed was the Department of Environment. Turns out it’s actually a charity that helps the homeless who have problems with drugs and alcohol get back on their feet through a 9-12 month programme with the Fund. The guys (I have yet to see a woman) in blue are picking up rubbish (that would be trash here) from the pavement (sidewalk) and emptying bins (trashcans). In one year they pick up 9,000 tonnes (tons) in the city. I can’t work out if they are under contract to the Dept of Sanitation who deal with residential rubbish, or if the city does this as well. As well as working, the guys in blue also get a lot of support to help with addiction and get themselves back on their feet and back into the workplace. It’s impressive. At the other extreme I have seen some people carrying, usually on a knackered old buggy (stroller), massive plastic sacks of empty plastic bottles and drink cans. They are getting to the bins before the guys in blue and picking out the bottles and cans from the general rubbish (trash) and then taking them to machines dotted around the place to make a few cents on each one. I am pretty sure this doesn’t exist in the UK. It seems very old fashioned to make money on old bottles and years ago you could get money back on returned bottles, but that wasn’t necessarily about recycling. I find it deeply depressing that in this city of wealth and the land of opportunity, people are driven to do this.
In the UK, there is a strong drive to reduce plastic bag usage. Visit the major supermarkets and you now have to ask for a plastic bag and those that are available are so thin, they are hardly worth using. Anya Hindmarch led the style crowd with her I’m not a Plastic Bag which came out in a heavy canvas with thick rope handles in 2007 and instantly sold out. Every major retailer, museum, even school has their own hessian bag of sorts as we all salve our environmental conscience. Every week I would take my bag of bags off to Sainsbury’s smug in the knowledge I would not need a bag, annoying the sales assistant when I refused to put my loose veg in a bag and it rolling off on to the floor. So I brought this attitude to New York and thought it would be pretty much the same. I already have a massive collection of plastic bags: double bagging at the supermarket and just in case, let’s stick yet another bag over that chicken, which has already been aggresively shrink wrapped. One bag for the washing liquid in case it escapes from the child locked bottle. Agh, i cannot bear all these bags, even in the health food shop they’re at it and you’d think they would at least make an effort! I do refuse bags but that seems to be unusual. I haven’t quite summoned up the courage to recycle my Fairways bags – mostly because they pack for you and I’m too scared to ask them not to. I had this romantic notion that everyone in the US used large brown paper sacks and held their groceries like a small baby, but I’ve only seen brown bags in use once: when they were inside a plastic bag.