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May 4, 2012

Trash can’ts

The dearth of trash cans in Hyde Park is an outrage and lends itself to some futuristic solutions.

Carrying trash is a misfortune with which we’re all familiar. Whether it’s a Cheetos bag or an empty soda can, your hands are incapacitated, and the sheer weight of it all is enough to blow out your back. “How many miles must I endure?” you ask yourself. “How many miles until I can find a can for my trash?”

In America, we call such a miracle of modern engineering a trash can. Makes sense. In Britain, trash cans are called dustbins, which leads me to believe that Brits don’t have vacuum cleaners. But that’ll be the subject of a later column, entitled Britain and the Dirt Devil: A Faustian Tale.

In Hyde Park, your earlier question will be answered with “probably 10.” That is, 10 miles. Yes, it’s an average of ten miles to the nearest trash can from any spot in Hyde Park. The veracity of that statistic aside, it does illuminate an important point about our neighborhood: There is a noticeable dearth of trash cans in Hyde Park.

Walking through some of the most populated areas—for example, outside of Kimbark Plaza on East 53rd Street—you’ll find enough trash cans, but only just. Take a walk off the beaten path, along East 56th Street or down South Harper Avenue, and good luck finding anywhere to junk your funk. Or, even more offensively, our own quad boasts so few trash cans that you’ll never be able to throw away that B- essay fast enough. On that note, good luck getting rid of this newspaper. Your two options are to read it cover-to-cover in search of a trash can or to throw it on the ground like a litterbug, the foulest and ugliest of the bugs.

Furthermore, the trash cans we have are poorly located. Outside Bartlett Dining Hall, there’s a relatively dense concentration of trash cans. But think about it: Why would you ever need a trash can outside of a dining hall? You’re either entering the dining hall because you’re hungry or leaving it because you just ate, and in neither case does it make sense that you’d have trash (at least not trash from food). And have you been in the Reg lately? Hell, there’s nearly a trash can and recycling bin for every person! And while it’s convenient to have so many, it is certainly overkill. There must be a happy medium that we can strike between the overabundance of trash cans in the Reg and the sparseness of trash cans in the surrounding community.

One place to look for possible solutions to the trash can dilemma is utopian literature. But in the absence of an encyclopedic knowledge of utopian literature, we will look to the next best thing: Disney. Disney’s EPCOT was designed as a utopian community, and though utopian theorists are inclined to call EPCOT a degenerate utopia or a dystopia, it may still inform us about how to better utilize trash cans. A similar sentiment applies to Tomorrowland, another of Disney’s theme lands. Because the Viewpoints staff was unlikely to sign off on an all-expense-paid trip to EPCOT and Tomorrowland to count trash cans, I didn’t ask, so I don’t have an exact number. But there are other features of the Disney trash can landscape worth examining.

One problem related to the lack of trash cans around Hyde Park is that those that do exist are hard to find. They’re painted so that they fade into the background, and they’re not intuitively located to boot. EPCOT solves this problem with its JAMMitors. The JAMMitors are a trash can percussion trio, which means exactly what you think it means. With a JAMMitor trio around every trash can in Hyde Park, locating the bins wouldn’t be a problem at all.

And in Tomorrowland, there’s PUSH, a remote controlled trash can who moves around and encourages people not to litter. Ironically, despite zipping all around the theme park, PUSH isn’t an active trash can, in that you can’t throw things away in him. That seems silly to me. When we kidnap PUSH and bring him to Hyde Park, he’ll travel around the streets like a shuttle and, like a good can, he’ll be open to receiving our trash. With an army of PUSHes, trash cans will literally come to you.

These are two very modest proposals to improving the bleak state of trash cannage in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The University could also buy more trash cans, but I wouldn’t want to suggest anything too radical. Such a suggestion would be filed somewhere between building a library made entirely of windows and launching an engineering program—unfathomable. In the meantime, I encourage you to protest the lack of trash cans by filling the few that we have with stern letters to the Administration.

Matt Walsh is a third-year in the College majoring in economics and political science.

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