by Stephen Puibello
Reprinted with permission of Digital City Boston/America Online

It's Tuesday morning and the sound of supermarket shopping carts being wheeled along the sidewalks and back alleys by the homeless of Boston has become as common as the sound of automobiles. Each trash collection day, sleepy residents are visited by neighbors from the homeless community, who arrive to rummage through the trash in search of cans and bottles worth a nickel.

The laudable bottle deposit laws, now in nine states, are intended to motivate people to recycle. A nickel a can multiplied by as many cans a shopping cart can carry can provide those who are hungry a nice meal each day. However, in order to reap the rewards of the bottle bill, some of the homeless rummage through household trash, spreading refuse hither and yon in an effort to make sure that the trashbag has nothing left to yield. This is clearly a health hazard for everyone(the spewn trash attracks rodents), but most critically for the folks doing the rummaging.

There is legislation now at the State House that, if passed, will make even more recyclable items worth a nickel (bottles containing wine, sports drinks, spring water, etc.) This is great news for the homeless community members who make use of the deposits, but it is a mixed blessing as it puts homeless people and their neighbors at even greater risk in terms of their health.

The homeless people and the residents of Boston can resolve the health issue with a very simple idea: Require anyone who does not recycle for whatever reason to put all deposit-law items into a clear bag. The campaign is called the "Clear Bags for a Cleaner Community." With this simple effort, those who rummage through the trash and spread what they don't want on the sidewalk will no longer need to do that, as they will only need to pick up one bag per household. By designating one bag and by making it a clear bag, deposit law items will be easily visible.

No one wants anyone arrested for not recycling cans and bottles, nor does anyone enjoy seeing another person digging through trash with their bare hands and spreading it around the street. The Bottle Bill, both existing and possibly expanded, never addressed rummaging, as it never occurred to anyone that people would have to rummage in trash so they could eat. The Clear Bags for a Cleaner Community campaign would allow us to work together to satisfy everyone's needs.

Imagine a project that makes rummaging unnecessary but allows the public to participate in helping the homeless by putting recyclables in clear bags only!

People who never thought they could make a difference in the lives of the homeless could now help by simply by separating their trash. Each household or building that participated could buy clear garbage bags for this purpose. It would make an enormous difference in the lives of many homeless people at a cost of a couple dollars each month per resident. This "donation" would go to people who really need the help and who spend hours industriously gathering cans to meet their needs. More clear bags would mean less rummaging, fewer health hazards, cleaner streets, and greater opportunity for the homeless to feed themselves.