The great recycle bin caper

A few weeks ago, I packed up after my Pilates class and exited the studio to find that most of my students still hadn’t left. They were milling around the courtyard, having some sort of strategy session, and several of them were holding latex gloves.

It turned out that one of my students had dropped her car keys into the plastics/cans bin while tossing her recyclables. (There are three bins right outside the place where I teach, and students often arrive with their cars full of recyclables because it’s so convenient to take care of them there.) She had already dug through as much of the bin as she could reach through the opening, to no avail. It was time for more drastic measures.

Portugal recycling bin

(Typical Portuguese recycle bins for paper, plastics/cans, and glass, from back to front.)

These recycle bins are about two meters high, so they hold a lot of stuff. There was no way my student was ever going to find her keys by reaching in through the front.

So the students got together with a couple of employees from the studio and tipped the recycle bin over in the street. This blocked half the street, but whatever, it’s Portugal. Drivers are used to that.

Fortunately for my student, the locking mechanism that keeps the bin’s bottom in place was broken, so she was able to open it up. One student held the metal bottom up and out of the way, while the rest (and my wife and I) began going through a few weeks worth of plastic and metal recyclables.

I learned one thing from this: many people do not know how to recycle. Rinsing is apparently a foreign concept. Some of the crap in that bin was disgusting, and I was very happy for my latex glove.

The student who had lost her keys crouched on the edge of the bin, reaching in with a long-handled tool that someone had lent her, scraping things forward and looking through them. Soon it became obvious that even with the tool, she couldn’t reach far enough, so a different student actually crawled inside—for which I thought she deserved the Altruistic Act of the Week award. You couldn’t have paid me to crawl in that thing.

Soon enough, the entire contents of the recycle bin were strewn around the street and sidewalk, and there was no sign of the keys. Someone said, “Did you check inside your car?” The student said yes, twice, but another person said, “I’ll just go look again.” She came back shaking her head—no keys.

Our assembly line went into reverse and we scraped all that crap back into the bin, fastened the bottom in place, and tipped it back up. Now the street was clear again, but we still had no keys.

The student said, “Oh God, I recycled glass, too. I might have dropped them in there.”

The glass bin was full. Not even the combined strength of all of us could have tipped it over, and besides that, it was obvious that this bin did not have a broken lock mechanism. We couldn’t get in.

The student thanked everyone profusely for their help, and folks began to drift away, wishing her luck as they left. She already had two offers for a ride home to pick up her spare keys, and decided to go with my wife and me. So we, and the courageous student who had crawled inside that bin, ended up being the last ones left.

We chatted a bit, and then the courageous student said goodbye and walked down the sidewalk to her car, which was parked behind the one with no keys. My wife and I headed for our car along with the keyless student.

“Hey!” we heard. “Look what I found!”

We turned to find the courageous student standing by the keyless car, holding up a large keychain. The keyless student clapped her hands to her face. “Oh thank God! WHERE did you find them?”

“On top of your car.”

Two people had looked at that car three times, and other students had walked past it on the way to their own cars, but nobody saw the keys. They were silver, attached to a silver metal keyring, on top of a silver car.

Needless to say, the student who had lost them was mortified. We all had a great laugh and went on our way, glad that the story had a happy ending.

Here’s the interesting thing. The following week in class, nobody asked that student if she’d ever found her keys. I was looking forward to it, but everyone let her off the hook. Most of my students are expats from northern Europe, so maybe this is a cultural politeness thing. If this were my class back in Oregon, no way would she have gotten away with keeping quiet. We western Americans are much nosier—especially if we were the ones sorting through dripping cans and plastics! We’d figure we deserved to know the end of the story.

I suspect my student has never been so glad that her classmates are mostly Dutch, German and British.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in life, Portugal. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The great recycle bin caper

  1. Lisa Shaw says:

    As a fellow (native) Oregonian, I am appalled by how people do recycle as well as by how they don’t. Beer and wine bottles in the trash or spunky unrinsed tuna and Spaghetti-Os cans in the recycle — which is worse? Although I have curbside recycling service here, I conscientiously rinse and sort my recyclables and drive them to the transfer station myself once a month to be sure it’s properly done. It’s such a small chore that could make such a difference to our planet if everyone did his or her part. And no matter what, recycled material *should* be clean, good heavens. 😛

    Oh yes, and that’s an interesting observation about the relative nosiness of Americans. We have inquiring minds and we want to know! 😉

    • I live in California and do the same thing, recycling-wise. I’m originally from the East Coast and it’s been shocking to discover that Californians are lax recyclers at best, since we always through CA was a leader in this regard. Anyway, at least you and I are working on keeping the recycling clean, Lisa!

  2. Karien says:

    Lol. Thanks for the chuckle! I’m afraid I probably would have been one of the ones wanting to know the end of the story.

    We also have curbside recycling here, but it’s very demoralizing after all that effort, to hear that Ireland sells their recycling to China as solid fuel.

  3. Cathy White says:

    Lol, I wonder how many brightly coloured key rings this lady gets for Xmas this year.

  4. Inge says:

    I always hear that expats have a great network of gossip. Most likely everyone knew already and just let her off the hook ‘in public’. Behind closed doors, i’m sure there will have been laughs and teasing of the unfortunate. And that is the kind of story to last decades as laughing material… hehe.

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