Chapter 1

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There are two kinds of recycling, and one of them is better than the other. Unsurprisingly, the better kind is rarely encountered.

I worked at a nice indie supermarket in Western NY before coming down South. In front of the store, over to the side, they had two of the big bins that apple growers use. On stock days they'd sort out the nicest empty boxes -- there were a lot of them -- and put them out into the bins for the customers to take and use.

I pitied the fools who had to use liquor store boxes or the horribly cheap flimsy boxes sold at U-Haul and Home Depot. Some of those grocery boxes were so nice you'd want to put them on display. The six-gallon-jug ones from the Pennsylvania spring water bottler were a great size, rated 95 pounds, and always shiny-clean and uncrushed. The poly bags of Domino brown sugar came in boxes rated 120 pounds! The Kelloggs cereal ones weren't rated but they were clean and sharp and square and they felt like 95-pound boxes, nice and rigid. The paper-towel boxes were flimsy but surprisingly popular.

The damaged, complicated, or otherwise non-useful boxes and fillers and trays and dividers and stuff went into the compactor, the beautiful ones went to a grateful public, and everyone was happy.


Now, why doesn't every store, at least every indie store, do this, make their good boxes available to the public? Where I live, the county websites say that IT IS ILLEGAL to toss a newspaper or a beverage can into the trash. And those are useless things. Why wouldn't you harvest things that are highly useful, with people looking for them every single day? There's almost nothing more useful than a good corrugated box.

Plus the selected boxes are, if properly selected, much higher quality than all the weak, junky boxes that are available on the retail market. Plus the recycling of a good box is infinitely more environmentally effective than sending the boxes out to be chopped up and made into more boxes, which is a whole manufacturing process that has to be paid for. Plus the store has to bale and store compacted boxes between pickups. Why not minimize that expense? Plus free boxes is one more feature that'll bring people into your parking lot.

There's reason after reason after reason why giving away good boxes is good practice in the grocery business. So why don't stores do it? It is such a comprehensively good thing to do, that to not do it borders on deliberate malice.