Just toss it, Sir

It’s 11 am on Tuesday, and I am at the Piccadilly train station in Manchester (UK), headed toward London and about to board the train to Reading. Train leaves at 11:27 so I think, oh, what the hell, I shall have something to eat. I purchase a hot cocoa with a croissant, sit on a bench and consume the food — hey, it is not even that bad, by British standards — but, I digress.
I stand up and look for a trash bin, to dispose of my paper cup and bag. Hmm…. funny, I do not see any. I figure, there must be one somewhere, I shall look for it — after all, the train station is spotless clean.

I walk all over the place, I see stores, the ticket counter, the newspaper stand but, no trash bin, or receptacle of any kind in sight. I am thinking, OK, I know, it is the UK, people are weird but… why hide trash receptacles ? … it is like, encouraging people to be dirty, to toss their waste… I do not want to do it but… I cannot miss the train because of this. But how the hell is the station so clean, though… what do people do with their trash ?
People seem to be looking at me. They can tell I am struggling. They see me awkwardly walking around with my luggage, holding my paper cup in my hand… they surely expect me, the uncivilized, bald foreigner with a funny accent to do the uncivilized thing and toss my paper cup somewhere… Well, don’t hold your breath, my friends, this baby will travel with me back to France (where I know there is a trash receptacle somewhere…), if need be. After all, I am the guy who is saying no to the iPhone, no less… this would be a piece of cake for me… try me.

Oh, great, there is a policeman, I shall ask him.
Me: Excuse me, Sir, I know it is a silly question but…. I have something to dispose of and I cannot find a …
Policeman: Just toss it, Sir.
Me: Er.. excuse me ?
Policeman: Just toss it. As in, drop it on the floor and forget about it, discard it…
(I quickly glimpse around … could I be on Candid Camera ? Should I wave hello to people at home ?)
Me: Yes, Sir, I think I am somewhat familiar with that “tossing” notion, it is just that I come from the old school, that says…
Policeman: Yes, Sir, I understand, I am familiar with that “old school” concept myself. We have removed all trash receptacles from the station, and ask people to leave their trash on the floor… there is a cleaning crew that constantly collects all the trash.
(I look around and indeed I see one such crew, slowly collecting paper cups, napkins and all sort of other unpleasant stuff dropped on the floor at random spots all over the station….)
Me: I am sorry Sir, but… are you telling me …
Policeman: Yes, Sir, that is exactly what I am telling you. We no longer have trash bins, nor receptacles at most stations in the UK, as they pose a security threat.
Me: A … security… threat …?
Policeman: Yes, Sir, a security threat. Trash receptacles are are the ideal place where terrorists could place explosive devices.
Me: Oh… I see… I … I guess it makes sense… sort of… thank you, Sir.
Policeman: You have a safe journey, Sir.

OK, first of all, in fairness, I am sure that this is not the UK only — I would not be surprised if the rest of the world followed suit. And I suppose it does indeed make sense that containers such as trash bins could be used for that purpose (come to think of it, I must have seen something like that in a movie…).
But the thing is, what next ? We already have to go through a ridiculous strip-tease routine before boarding the plane, it is an ordeal if we want to carry liquids on board and so on, and I am becoming more and more convinced with time, that I shall see the day we all have to board the plane naked, in order to reduce security threats…. now we have to do away with trash receptacles at train stations, and presumably at all public places, so that people will toss their trash and cities will incur into additional effort in order to keep them from becoming landfills…

Do not get me wrong, I hate terrorists as the next person, and I do not want to sound like I am discounting the terrorist threat but, somehow, these things make me slightly uncomfortable. How far down this path are we willing to go ? How much more inconvenient, uncomfortable and expensive are we willing to make our life in order to avert a hypothetical terrorist attack ? Is it not like saying that terrorists have won, by forcing us to live in fear ?

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11 Responses to “Just toss it, Sir”

  1. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    This isn’t just a recent thing. The IRA used trash cans to hide nail bombs a few times, after which they were all removed… it’s the same in Paris (at least it was in 1996 when I had a similar search for a garbage receptacle there).

    Some stations hang clear plastic bags off the end of benches etc. which works well, I haven’t heard of being asked to toss garbage on the floor before!

  2. ruchi aka arduous Says:

    sorry, I was laughing through this whole post. I too share your discomfort, and frequently end up carting trash home with me so that I can throw it in a trash can … I just can’t throw it on the floor.

  3. Cherish Says:

    I carry a plastic sack in my backpack for such occasions, not all of which are terrorist-related.

    You can’t honestly blame them, though, after the subway bombings…

  4. Professor in Training Says:

    Ha – I noticed the same thing the last time I was in the UK about 10 years ago. Ended up packing my trash with me until I could find a bin at my final destination.

  5. Transient Reporter Says:

    Dude, do you ever stay in one country for more than 20 minutes?

    • Massimo Says:

      Well, pretty much after twenty minutes I start hearing stuff like ‘Hey, don’t you have to be some place else ?’… and you know me, I can read between the lines…

  6. kjhaxton Says:

    It isn’t a new thing as Cath says. Until reading your post it never even occurred to me to just put the trash on the ground. This post made me laugh last night so much, really needed cheering up! Thanks!

  7. JaneB Says:

    This isn’t a post 9-11 thing in the UK – the IRA used rubbish bins (= trash cans) for planting explosives in shopping centres and railway stations and there were some actual explosions so it isn’t JUST random paranoia – whether there are or aren’t rubbish bins tends to fluctuate with the general anxiety levels and the recent-ness of any actual incidents.

    Me, I’m too old-school to drop the rubbish on the floor – I either end up pursuing the cleaning team and putting it in their container (much to their confusion), using the paper towel bin in the toilets, or folding it up and toting it along…

  8. Dr J Says:

    I don’t know if it is true, but I once read that the rubbish bins were never removed from Northern Ireland stations. The whole thing has been very irritating for years, but as previous posters have said it goes back to the IRA planting bombs in bins – train stations used to be particular targets. There were not just some explosions – there were also some deaths, including a boy in a shopping centre in Warrington. I think there was little other option than to do this – however the clear plastic bags thing was something I thought that most places now did to get around this problem.

  9. Mad Hatter Says:

    Yeah, well where I come from, there are plenty of trash cans and people still just toss their garbage on the floor!

    As for airport security, I have been selected for “extra screening” before and never had to perform a strip-tease routine. Are you sure your strip-tease wasn’t the one caught on Candid Camera? 🙂

    • Massimo Says:

      Yep, where I come from too, alas, people seem to go out of their way to avoid disposing of trash in the proper places… As for the strip-tease, well, it was not meant to be taken literally but, while we may not be (yet) quite up to that point, each time I travel they seem to ask that something else be taken off (we physicists like extrapolations)…

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