The whole rotten business of rubbish 

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The whole rotten business of rubbish

Visitors to New York are often shocked when they first encounter its powerful summertime stink of rotting garbage. Breathing in the miasmic odours and observing the mountainous piles of refuse that line the streets each night, newcomers are apt to form the impression that New York is rather relaxed and devil-may-care about matters of refuse and refuse collection. But the opposite is the case. The city may look and smell like a compost heap a lot of the time, but it is home to some of the most draconian garbage rules and regulations known to modern man.

Every neighbourhood in New York has three designated garbage pick-up days a week and residents are allowed to put their refuse out no earlier than 5pm on the eve of each pick-up day. If you live in a smaller apartment building with no garbage storage in the basement, your pick-up days take on sacramental importance. Miss a day, and you have to live with your festering garbage bags in your apartment until the next scheduled pick-up. (Once or twice, over the years, I have become so desperate to get rid of some rancid piece of chicken, or left-over Indian take-away, that I have crept out under cover of night and illicitly dumped the bags in another neighbourhood where pick-up was due the next morning.)

Then there are the elaborate and fiercely policed recycling protocols. Plastic and glass and metal go in a blue bag, paper and cardboard in a transparent bag, and everything else in a black bag. Black bags can go out on any of the three days, but the recyclables can only be put out on Friday. Failure to observe these rules – and a whole raft of infinitely more subtle particulars – results in heavy fines. When I first moved to Manhattan, and had not yet been initiated in the mysteries of the garbage laws, I was constantly being busted for improperly wrapped or sorted refuse. The fines were issued to my building superintendent, who would then post them on my front door, like a plague sign, for all my neighbours to see. Once or twice a month, I would return home to find a gnomic account of my latest infraction – “Two wine bottles found in black bag” or “Newspapers improperly tied” – together with a demand for a hundred bucks.

One day, in a bolshy mood, I asked the super how the garbage police could be so sure that the delinquent wine bottles and inadequately tied newspapers were mine and not someone else’s. He trudged down to the basement and came back brandishing an empty bottle of prescription Xanax with my name on it. “They found this in the bag,” he said.

Knowing that one’s garbage stands a strong chance of being gone through, piece by piece, by a po-faced enforcement agent does tend to encourage compliance. It also produces a certain amount of paranoia. Over the past 17 years, I have spent more time than I am happy to admit standing over my recycling bins, cutting up receipts and scribbling over labels to obscure evidence of my dodgier self-medication habits and lingerie purchases.

I deeply resent all this. It’s not just that the economics of NYC recycling are highly questionable – which they are – or even that an estimated 40 per cent of New York’s recyclable stuff winds up in landfills, anyway – which it does: there’s something maddening about the holy status that recycling enjoys. It is the modern-day equivalent of tithing: a sacred duty, an absolute good. To question its worthiness is to put yourself beyond the pale of common civic values.

One recent Friday night, as my children and I were hauling garbage bags down to the street, we met a neighbour in the elevator. Observing my untidy bag of unflattened cardboard boxes, he offered to give me some packing tips.

“We do all our sorting and packing as a family on Thursday nights. It’s kind of fun and the kids love it.” I smiled and nodded.

“Mom thinks recycling is crap,” my daughter piped up. “She wishes we could go back to landfills.”

The neighbour’s eyes grew watery with anguish, or perhaps suppressed rage. “Well, I’m sorry she feels that way,” he murmured.

He has cut me dead ever since.


2. Quote the sentences in which the following words and word combinations are used. Explain the meaning of the given vocabulary units, give the Russian equivalents:

Apt to form the impression, devil-may-care, compost heap, draconian rules, regulations, pick-up, designated, garbage pick-up days, garbage storage, festering, under cover of night, illicitly, dump, to take on importance, elaborate and fiercely policed protocols, a whole raft of, busted, a gnomic account, infraction, in a bolshy mood, trudge, brandishing, po-faced, enforcement agent, to encourage compliance, dodgy, resent, winds up in landfills, beyond the pale of common civic values, haul, piped up, suppressed rage, cut smb dead.


3. Using the text prove that...

1) visitors to New York are unlikely to believe that the city has very strict garbage rules.

2)  pick-up days take on sacramental importance for the citizens.

3) the recycling protocols are elaborate and fiercely policed.

4)  knowing that one’s garbage stands a strong chance of being gone through also produces a certain amount of paranoia.

5) to question the worthiness of recycling is to put yourself beyond the pale of common civic values.


4. Discussion points.

 1) What is the author’s attitude to the topic? How is the ironic effect created?

2) Find synonyms of the word “rubbish”. In what semantic components do they differ?

3) Find the examples of metaphors in the text. Comment on each of them.

4) What are the chances for a similar curbside programme to be introduced in Russia? Would you personally support its introduction?

5) You’re a local government official. Make a speech aimed at local residents trying to convince them to accept a curbside programme in their neighbourhood.


Text 3


1. Can recycling be profitable? Work in pairs and make a list of ideas to reuse items that can bring income.

2. 1) Read the text and find the English equivalents for the following words and word-combinations.


Прибыльный, генеральная уборка, превращать в, главный продукт, стремительно расти, склонность, выброшенный, осветительный прибор, кредо, фанера, спустя полгода, считать своей обязанностью, перспективный, неотъемлемая часть, запоздалая мысль.

2) Translate into Russian, paraphrase and illustrate with examples: to eco-innovate, commitment to environmental issues, eco-friendly company, to bring honesty back to the product, eco-entrepreneurs, eco-design.


From turning old clothes into bags to making plastic cups into fabulous pencils, spring-cleaning just got lucrative.

In the past 10 years household recycling in England has more than tripled, with 9.4 million tonnes of waste sent for recycling in 2013-14. That’s a lot of material. And people have realised it’s quite easy to turn unwanted belongings into cash. The world’s largest online marketplace, eBay has 90 million active users globally, with 40 million live listings on the UK site alone. But turning rubbish into a marketable product requires a little more creativity.

Edward Douglas Miller has been eco-innovating for more than 15 years. In 1996, he founded Remarkable Ltd., a company dedicated to turning UK waste into usable products. ‘The idea behind it was you take a waste item from an office and convert it into a product, which you then sell back into the office,’ he says. Remarkable’s first creation was a pencil made from a used plastic cup. When water coolers became a mainstay in offices throughout the country, the use of plastic cups skyrocketed to four billion a year in the UK alone. ‘There was a huge amount of plastic going into landfill – a huge amount of waste,’ he says. His pencils gave the cups new life. ‘The product actually had more life than just a single use: it could carry messages; it was a demonstration of commitment to environmental issues.’

Today, Remarkable has expanded to discarded car tyres, corn on the cob husks and CD cases. ‘I think it’s a responsible and also an essential practice to take our own waste and do whatever we can to turn it back into product we can use,’ adds Miller. Remarkable also helps companies to manage their own waste by streamlining it and turning it into usable products.

Cameron Fry started Liqui Design in a tiny workspace using only a two metre square table. Today, his eco-friendly company does business in Hong Kong, Paris, Austria, Ibiza and at home in the UK. And like Miller, Fry is committed to keeping production local, and sourcing materials from area companies. Liqui is about producing furniture and lighting fixtures that are both ‘green’ and visually appealing. ‘My whole ethos about the company is that someone actually has to buy it at the end,’ he says. A self-described born and bred hippy with a penchant for business, Fry saw a gap in the market for green products with high street appeal. ‘Then people buy it, and you’re educating people who sometimes don’t want to be educated.’

While studying three-dimensional craft at Brighton University, he designed a coffee table made solely from cardboard. Today the same concept is the basis for his Edge Collection. Covered in a gloss laminated veneer for protection from spills, the table’s corrugated edges remain exposed, something that brings honesty back to the product, according to Fry. Liqui’s Bagalight Collection captures the elegant simplicity Fry aims to demonstrate in his designs. A paper shopping bag is turned into a playful, and affordable, lantern or lamp. The inspiration for Bagalights came on an ordinary day, when Fry was sitting outside at a restaurant. ‘A guy went past on a “fixy” with a paper bag hanging off his handle bars with his lunch in it, and I just saw it and it was swinging.’ Fry asked the restaurant for a takeaway bag to examine and was amazed at how something so simple was actually quite intricately produced. ‘You’ve already got this really nicely made product, so is there any way that you can make it into something that someone wants to buy and keep, rather than put in the bin after they’ve eaten their sandwiches?’

Fry says aspiring eco-entrepreneurs should aim to create products that are scalable. ‘If you sell six of them and someone says, “I want one hundred,” and you can’t do it, then there is no business there.’ He adds that persistence pays off, and anyone new to the recycling business needs to be patient. ‘I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand,’ he says. ‘They start, and six months down the road they haven’t sold anything and they tend to give up. But anything to do with design, and especially eco-design, is tough because it’s such an up and coming thing.’

Lucy Hornberger was strolling down a street in Sweden when she spotted a woman carrying a colourful bag. Intrigued by its unusual design, she asked her where it was from, and learned the bag had come from the Philippines. A few phone calls later, and Hornberger was in touch with a Filipino woman named Editha. ‘She’s got loads of energy and she wanted to direct it somewhere,’ Hornberger says. ‘So she thought she’d start by cleaning up the village.’ Editha, and the women in her village, opened a rubbish sorting area, and came up with the idea of stitching and weaving together juice packs, which are popular in the Philippines. Because they are not biodegradable, the packs litter the streets and rivers. But with a little innovation, and sewing, the women of Editha’s village transformed trash into Doy Bags, now a booming business. Doy Bags have become such an integral part of the neighbourhood, that residents save used juice packs, and are careful to keep them clean and intact.

Like Fry, Hornberger says recycling alone isn’t enough. You also have to know what your customers want. ‘People like the idea of recycled products but when they actually buy, they want the strawberry or the cute cartoon character.’ And this can be a problem if popular juice packs are discontinued. ‘You’ve got to be sure of your supply, because it is all recycled,’ Hornberger says. Quality control is also important. ‘If you sell something to somebody and it breaks, you’ve really burnt your bridges,’ she says. ‘I think it’s an afterthought for a lot of small businesses, but it is really important.’


3. Make presentation of a company dedicated to turning waste into usable products and selling eco-friendly goods. Speak about the following:


- disadvantages of your product as compared to the traditional one;

- potential buyers and ways to lure them;

- ways to expand your business;

- the environmental perspective of your product.


Speak about the products mentioned in the text or use your own ideas. Here are some more real green products: eco-friendly lamps, green umbrellas, hand-power shredders, eco-friendly remote controls, green fashionable rings, moss carpets, the seven year pens, environmentally sound chairs.



A. Collocations

Match the following words to form collocations and use them in sentences.

fossil            waste

man-made    farming

battery          supplies

extinct          sprawl

exhaust         disaster

noxious        loss

sustainable     species

habitat          energy

water           fumes

urban           fuel



B. Make sentences to explain the difference in meaning between the following pairs. Use a dictionary if you wish.

Famine/hunger, foreseeable/foreseen, alleviating/aggravating, endangered/extinct, zoo/sanctuary, avalanche/landslide, biodegradable/recyclable.





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