t was on a hot and sad Monday morning that I discovered the disappearance of my wet waste “poubelle agréée,” as I call, à la française (and after the title of story by Italo Calvino), all kinds of waste bins. I had positioned it just outside the gate the evening before and there I had seen it for the last time, as I waited for my dogs to make their final round along the deserted lane, sniffing traces of old urine at the corners (“every dog’s delight,” Carlo Emilio Gadda would have said) and superimposing a few drops of their own.
It was still almost new, as the company that had recently undertaken the contract for the separate refuse daily collection in our village had delivered it less than one year ago, together with an array of other containers, each in a different color, for the disposal of plastic, metal, glass, paper, and non-recyclable waste.
I looked around to see whether the wind had blown it away (these bins are lightweight and, once emptied, they can fly like kites on a morning of strong wind) but to no avail. There was no wind either.
From the shed, I retrieved another container for the wet waste. The previous garbage collecting company had given it to us only a few years earlier and it was still unscathed. God only knows why the main priority of every new scheme for the collection of garbage is to supply each family with a new set of colored buckets. They do not even withdraw the old ones from use. We have an assortment of them by now, all in slightly different shapes, though the colors remain the same for the different kinds of garbage. There are a few comforting certainties in life.
I put out my recycled “poubelle agréée” on the “agreed” night and went to bed for a good night’s sleep. A disagreeable surprise was waiting for me as I went out with the dogs for our morning walk. The container was still full. I looked around to check on those of our neighbors: all empty. I was dumbfounded. The garbage collectors could not have possibly missed my bin, in full sight as it was. There were no cars parked in the street to obstruct it from view. The next wet waste collection was going to be in two days.
Two days later, early in the morning, I approached the bin with a certain apprehension. It was empty, but a printed notice had been stuck to the lid: “The container does not comply with the regulations.” I looked at my recycled garbage bin. It was almost the same shade of color as the one that had disappeared, even the same size. Moreover, it was stronger and heavier, not easily blown away by the wind.
I phoned the company’s toll-free number and a kind female voice explained to me that the containers they had supplied were all microchipped – to ensure that the citizens put out the right kind of garbage bin each night. There was a microchip for every family. Now, it was possible that someone else was using my dustbin and maybe causing all sorts irregularities in the system, and that this could all be blamed on me.
God forbid! What an appalling thing to happen to a law abiding citizen like me.
The lady added that it was not unusual for containers to be stolen, probably by non-resident citizens (for reasons I fail to understand) and suggested that I go to the nearest police office to report the stealing of the dustbin. Then, I should proceed to the company offices, armed with a copy of the registered report, in order to obtain another wet waste container in compliance with the company rules.
The company offices are in another town, seven miles away.
“Wouldn’t it be simpler if I come there and just buy a new one?”
“No, they are for free, but you need to report the disappearance to the police. Otherwise, you cannot have a new one. And remember that if you keep using the wrong one, you could be fined.”
Gosh! Robbed and fined! That is Kafkaesque!
So, individuals are stealing other people’s trash cans for their own sordid purposes. Was there a sort of war of the garbage pail under way? I was suddenly reminded of an epic-comic poem by Alessandro Tassoni (1565-1635), “La Secchia Rapita” (the kidnapped bucket), narrating a war between two cities, Bologna and Modena at the time of the clashes between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. In that case, the hostilities were triggered, in lieu of the kidnapping of a beautiful woman as in the war of Troy, by the stealing of a wooden bucket by the Modena army from a well under the walls of Bologna. As the story goes, the war continued for some time, until negotiations, under the auspices of the papal legate, led to a truce with the following conditions: the Bolognesi would keep King Enzo of Modena, (whom they had captured in battle) and the Modenesi would keep the “kidnapped” wooden bucket. It is still preserved in Modena, in the Ghirlandina Tower. Poor King Enzo spent the rest of his life in a gilded prison, with all the honors due to his rank, but he never saw his city again.
However, the shocking discovery was that, at the garbage collection company, they have an office checking on our waste. Their spooks must be out, combing the streets, every night, sniffing at our buckets like bloodhounds. Not even George Orwell could have foreseen such a disquieting evolution.
It was a muggy July day, and I could not find the energy to go to the local police station to report the stealing of a dustbin, whose cost (I checked on the net) was around nine euros. I was afraid they would laugh at me and kick me out as a nuisance. What if they had asked me whether it was full or empty? Because if it was empty I was the only one to have been robbed. On the other hand, if it was full (and how could I know that?) the garbage collection company had also been robbed of something that legally belonged to them. If I did not report the theft, could I be considered an accomplice?
For the time being, I decided on a different course of action. I printed another message explaining that the “agreed” dustbin had been stolen and that, while waiting for a replacement complying with the company rules, I was using another one, which had been “agreed upon” until a few months earlier. I stuck it on the lid, next to the message pasted by the garbage collector.
Several weeks have elapsed and my bin is being regularly emptied on every agreed day. I take extra care to separate and differentiate my waste, always using the prescribed container, so that at least I can show that I am a responsible citizen.
In any case, I knew that this interlude could not last. You cannot fool the company’s sleuths forever. Last week I walked to the nearest Carabinieri station and reported the disappearance of my wet waste bin.
From the smirk surfacing on the face of the officers, I knew that the dreaded question was coming.
“Was it empty or full?”