Toy Bin

The dustmen used to come on Monday mornings, but now it was Wednesday afternoons. Recycling used to be weekly, but service was now reduced to every two weeks. They used to take stuff from outside your door, and now they wanted you to bring it to the road. What the hell! Jenny was annoyed by this constant changing. While everybody else followed regular patterns, why did municipal services just follow their whims? It was ridiculous!

The dustmen were a curious bunch. They were a mix of young men and old men, with nothing in between. The older guys drove trucks and organized collection; younger guys mostly humped bins. They hadn’t taken this job for glamour, and wanted to get finished as early as possible, so didn’t talk much. They knew that the most important jobs in life are mundane. While other people tried to add glamour to superficial tasks like counting or selling or arranging this and that, the dustmen just got on with theirs.

Jenny asked the driver why their schedule kept changing. He stroked his beard and said, “I don’t know. We just follow The Authority’s instructions. There’s a shortage of garbage trucks, and last week we lost one.”

She said, “Lost one? Do you mean that it’s been taken elsewhere? Or has it gone missing?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve just heard that we lost one.”

Jenny shook her head and said, “Is that why you’re always changing trucks? This week you’ve got a – what do you call it, where you throw the trash in the back? – okay,  a rear loader? Last week there was one flipping the bins over the top of the cab – okay, front loader – isn’t that dangerous? The week before there was a side loader – is that right? Before that I’ve seen the one with the long sucky tube. The pneumatic collector? And there’s one with a long metal arm – what’s that? – yes, the grapple truck.”

“Well Miss, you’re a keen observer of municipal solid waste collection. We just come out with the truck we’re given. That’s it.” He waited for a response but Jenny didn’t say anything. “Okay, Miss we’d better move on. We need to get the lower Village finished by twelve. Good day to you.”

As he drove off, Jenny realized that she’d missed this week’s recycling collection, and they wouldn’t be back for another two weeks. She didn’t have a car so couldn’t drive out to the transfer station, which was five kilometres out of town.

Because their pooch Prince had chewed up her daughter’s dolls, she would no longer play with them. There was no point in giving them to the thrift store with mutilated faces and missing limbs, so best to send them for recycling. Jenny bashed the back of the truck and the driver stopped immediately. He jumped out, concerned. “Is everything alright?” he said. “Did I hit something?” She asked if he would take the dolls for recycling.

He said, “We only deal with solid waste. Recycling is another crew. But I’ll tell you what, slip them under these rails at the side of the truck, and I’ll drop them off at the end of our run.”

Jenny wedged the dolls beneath the rails. One-eyed Sally, armless Dolly, and one-legged Heather were old friends and nestled in together. Headless Anne-Marie and unrecognizable Dimples – her face mauled completely and seeming rough mincemeat – squeezed around them, and head-only Yazz was no trouble at all. Jenny couldn’t help waving to the dolls as the truck pulled away.

As the garbage truck continued its run, people smiled at the dolls and added their own unwanted toys. Black, Chinese, and plus-size dolls appeared. There were cowgirls, flappers, fairies, and a range of “inspirational internet-entrepreneur” dolls. Who’s got space for old toys these days? Who even has time to play with new ones? Their children’s lives were virtual now, and their toys were also virtual. Non-existent.

Parents with boys threw out unwanted action figures. Action men, space men, warriors of light, and glow-eyed demons, some hideously cackling, joined the unwanted doll ranks. There were neon robots and an array of Transformers, some of their hybrid apparatus seeming part of the truck. Many were really good toys, just no longer appreciated.

The garbage truck took the waste for composting, incineration, landfill, recycling, and windrow composting, but the toys looked so lovely – as if all playing together – that the dustmen left them arranged on the truck. As they performed their collections on other days, the number of toys grew, and they added extra rails to hold them. Large dinosaurs, teddies, and monsters were wedged into rails on top of the truck, which now seemed a mobile grandstand, but with circus performers rather than audience filling the seats.

As provincial waste management regulations progressed, garbage went increasingly for alternative treatments. Anaerobic digestion, bioconversion and biodrying, gasification, and mechanical heat treatments, pyrolosis, Upflow Anaerobic Sludge Blanket Digestion, and to waste autoclaves. But the toys stayed put and began to fill the inside of the truck too.

New laws required all garbage be recycled. Nothing could be disposed at all. The garbage truck was repurposed as the province’s first mobile exchange service for unwanted toys, called Toy Bin. It toured poorer communities, where toys were still appreciated, and where they created new lives and worlds.


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