Rubbish covered


Here a traffic cone is repurposed into a cover for a New York City lightpost. The traffic cone is electrical taped over a small opening at the base of the lightpost that allows technicians access to wiring. There is a metal plate that is usually bolted over the space in (functioning) streetlamps, and blends in so well with the rest of the lamp that the presence of a cover (or the space it is concealing) is almost impossible to recognize. From seeing the streetlamps that are lacking these covers, it appears they serve two purposes. The first is, more obviously, protecting the inner workings of the lamp from the elements.

The second is more interesting: the traffic protects the lamp from people who would deposit trash into it. This behavior is interesting in its compromise – while it is not placing trash into the optimal receptacle, it is still keeping us from throwing it on to the street (to be avoided at all costs, at the risk of being branded a litterbug or worse). Next time you walk down the street, look around places where there is pedestrian traffic but no “sanctioned” place to put trash. Besides finding trash on the ground, it is likely you’ll also find trash stuffed into any nearby crevice or thrown down any convenient hole (or into an adjacent body of water). Cigarette packets stuffed into crumbling mortar between bricks, glass bottles wedged into the base of tree branches, plastic shopping bags suspended between the spaces of a chain link fence, etc.

This “rubbish stuffing” behavior is prevalent not just in cultures with a more keenly developed “eco-consciousness” but also in less developed cultures lacking comparable standards for street cleanliness. Ironically, those in societies that have been continually bombarded with the message to not throw trash on the ground and adopt the behavior of putting it “anywhere but the ground” approach can make removing the trash more challenging in the future. Why? Although New York City employs a veritable army of trucks and roving personnel to sweep streets and empty sanctioned waste receptacles on a scheduled basis, garbage off of ground level is outside the official responsibility and (barring an extra-dedicated municipal sanitation employee) will remain until weather or a good samaritan removes it.

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