Doctor? Engineer? Try garbage woman.


It is clearly stated that the brown bin is for trash only, and the tan bin is for recycling. Regardless, nobody seems to care except me. Photo by Athira Penghat.

Athira Penghat

 Picking up on basic manners leaves me picking up everyone else’s trash.

It is clearly stated that the brown bin is for trash only, and the tan bin is for recycling. Regardless, nobody seems to care except me. Photo by Athira Penghat.
It is clearly stated that the brown bin is for trash only, and the tan bin is for recycling. Regardless, nobody seems to care except me. Photo by Athira Penghat.

Mothers say the darndest things.

Ever since I was a kid, my mother would always find ways to connect her advisory life lessons to the whole respect-all-living-souls, we-are-one-with-nature, you-could-be-reincarnated-as-a-twig hippie schtick. For the most part, I took this information with a grain of salt — not necessarily because I was a skeptic, but rather because my mom would repeatedly play the “karma card” to support just about everything she said.

But for once, the reference to nature actually made sense. The lesson? Don’t litter.

It was as simple as that, which might lead you to believe that my mother was right and that her advice could only help me become a “better person” — namely, a person who would have a panic attack at the sight of gum wrappers thrown anywhere besides in a trash can. But, as counterintuitive as it may seem, problems arise when I take my mother’s advice too literally.

It all started freshman year. Everyday at lunch, a friend of mine always tried to toss her trash into the nearby trash cans from a considerable distance away. Needless to say, she pretty much always missed. But the problem was that when she didn’t make it in, she wouldn’t bother to then pick up the trash afterward. It just lay there, aggravating the inner obedient-child-who-always-listens-to-her-mother in me until I finally caved and took control of the littering crisis at hand. My friend’s initial reaction was elated shock.

“Oh, you didn’t have to! Thanks!”

Then, after a few days of picking up after her, my other friends began to take notice too.

“Can you throw away my trash too, please?”

And I did so without hesitation. Anything to prevent the dreaded littering my mother had warned me about, right? At first, my friends took my generosity to be on account of the fact that I’m from Canada, and Canadians are supposed to represent the manifestation of all things nice and kind.

Little did I know, however, that at some point, cleaning up after my friends was not only routine for me, but for those around me as well.

In the early days of my trash tendencies, I always called the shots. I offered to throw out the scraped plates and half-empty juice cartons from lunch. But things changed. With due time, I didn’t even need to say anything. Instead, a pile of trash would just accumulate throughout lunch.

“Here you go.”

The first time that happened was the day that I officially became — in my mind — a licensed garbage woman, and I have only my mother to thank for it.

The job may not pay well (or at all), but it requires skill. In fact, it takes a sharp eye to actually take note of all the paper plates and orange juice cartons left scattered around campus after lunch. And it takes a special kind of determination to actually consider picking it all up. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some crusade to rid MVHS of trash. But I do think I’ve fallen into this habit of throwing away people’s trash for them because I’ve noticed that the likelihood that they won’t just leave their unused napkins and plastic forks all over the place is surprisingly low.

But to be fair, I can’t shift all the blame for this job of mine on my mother. If anything, the installation of the duo brown and tan trash cans two years ago almost made brunches and lunches unbearable.

Now I had to take on the added challenge of recycling. And it probably wouldn’t have been such a pain if it weren’t for the fact that I think I’m pretty much the only person on campus who actually uses them correctly. It’s gotten to the point where I think even the people who helped install these color-coded trash cans on campus see me following the trash disposal instructions posted next to these bins and think: “Wow, you’re actually using these correctly? Well that’s… new.”

But oddly enough, it’s not the fact that I personally choose not to litter and that I actually care enough to recycle that makes a difference. It’s the reaction other people have to my trash tendencies that litter-ally goes beyond this role of “garbage woman” I seem to have taken on.

When I actually take the extra seconds to organize my trash, the people who notice might think it’s peculiar — which in and of itself is peculiar — but then, more often than not, they follow my
lead. It’s as if they all of a sudden feel this twang of guilt and, even if only for a couple of seconds, become trash-conscious.

So I guess I could be more appreciative of my mom’s nature-is-free-thus-we-are-free ways. After all, she did, in some way, indirectly help make our campus cleaner — even if only by a litter.