Sunday, October 15, 2006

Where are the rubbish bins?

The first thing I noticed walking around London was how clean it is. For such a large city, London is nearly immaculate.

The second thing I noticed was the paradoxical lack of trash cans.

In Chicago, there are garbage cans all over the place. And there is also garbage all over the place.

I'm not a big litterbug even at my worst, but with the clean streets here, I am extra careful to hold onto my trash until I can find a receptacle. This is often several blocks. I once walked all the way through a rather large Tube station without finding a single can in which to throw away my empty cigarette pack. There probably was one, but I never found it. I ended up carrying it back to my hotel room, and throwing it away there.

As trash goes, I have seen only a can here or a bag there with one exception: outside of a British Rail station I saw the lawn had a huge amount of crap on it. Food containers, newspapers, all sorts of stuff. I had been here long enough that the sight shocked me, even though there are plenty of places in my neighborhood at home which are worse. I almost took a picture of it before I caught myself.

I mentioned the clean street conundrum to a couple of friends this past week. One had been to London earlier in the year and said that he too had noticed how strange it was, but had no explanation to offer. The other had been to Tokyo, which has a similar lack of both street refuse and trash cans.

On Friday night I finally got a possible answer to my question from a local. Apparently, in the 1970s, terrorists used to throw bombs into the trash cans of a crowded area. The cans would then transform into shrapnel when the device went off.

That would never have occurred to me. It makes me sad.

And it still doesn't explain why the streets are so clean. But now I'm not so sure I want to know.

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