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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Picking through another’s trash is creepy

Judith Martin Universal Uclick

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am very much a recycler – some might say “OCD” about it. I have been known to stop my car and pick up trash by the road to recycle it or fish cans and bottles out of co-workers’ trash cans after they go home.

I have a few relatives and friends who do not recycle at all even though it is available where they live. It causes me minor distress when I am visiting them and see cans and bottles in the kitchen trash can, and I have often secretly “rescued” these items and taken them to my car to recycle when I get home.

The problem is that sometimes I am caught, and I am embarrassed to be going through their trash. But more important, I do not want to appear high and mighty about recycling, as so many do about many “Earth-friendly” issues – as I am not (well, not really) judging them. I am just trying to rescue the recyclable items at no inconvenience to them.

I generally simply say, “Oh, I saw these and I’ll take them home to recycle,” but I still worry that they think I am either an insufferable tree-hugger or just plain odd for going through their trash. How should one handle this situation?

GENTLE READER: Actually, it is not your situation.

Yes, yes, Miss Manners understands that the condition of the Earth affects everyone. She also appreciates that you are trying to be discreet.

But the fact remains that rooting through other people’s trash is a violation of the trust they place in you when inviting you into their homes. You wouldn’t go through their drawers or closets.

It is no use arguing that trash is no longer wanted and that you are only looking for cans and bottles. Trash reveals a lot about how people live their private lives, and it is a violation of privacy to examine it. It’s also creepy.

So please do not justify one virtue, recycling, by violating another, namely respecting other people’s privacy. You must come to terms with not being able to police others – although you are most welcome to keep picking up the roadside trash.