Madison got up extra early and found a spot behind the school with a good view of the new recycling dumpster. She had asked around and learned the hauler came to empty the dumpster on Tuesdays around 5am. The school’s Nikon was on her passenger seat with the telephoto lens attached, and she had made sure to remove the lens cap. She sipped her coffee as she waited.

The truck came as predicted and parked next to the blue dumpster. Madison got out of her car with the camera and started taking pictures. Her hope was to get a good action shot of the recycling falling into the truck, as the machine lifted the dumpster high against the orange morning sky. She took a lot of pictures, to make sure she’d have one she could use with the story.

She was about to get back into her car when the truck pulled forward to the old green dumpster, and the machinery started to attach itself. Madison looked on curiously and then started snapping more pictures. As the truck lowered the dumpster back down, Madison jogged over and stood in front of the truck. She waved at the driver, who was looking down at his dashboard. He looked up, saw her, and climbed out of the cab.

“Hi! That’s a really cool truck!” she said brightly.

He laughed. “Usually it’s little boys who stop me to say that,” he said.

“I was wondering… how does it work when the stuff from the dumpster falls in up top? Does the recycling go into one place and the garbage into another?”

“Huh?” He looked up at the truck and then over at the two dumpsters. “Oh! Nah, it’s just open up there. All the stuff from both dumpsters just goes to the same place.”

“Excuse me?” she said.

“The blue one and the green one. I’m supposed to just empty them both with this truck.”

“The trash and recycling are mixed together?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“But… how do you recycle then?”

“It all goes to the landfill,” he explained. “We stopped recycling a couple years ago. Nobody would take it. So my bosses said, well if it’s all gonna end up in the dump anyway, why run two trucks, right?”

“I… but…” Madison’s coffee had not completely kicked in yet. She found herself at a loss for words.

“That all? I need to get going,” he said.

“Can I get your picture?” she asked.

“Sure,” he said, and put on a big fake smile.

Madison took his picture and noted his name in a note on her phone. She also snapped a picture of the door of the truck, which had the hauler’s phone number on it. She went back to her car and transcribed everything into her notebook.

She opened the browser on her phone and started to research the city’s recycling program. She found a newspaper story that was a couple years old. It talked about how the city was having trouble finding anywhere to recycle materials. According to the story, paper and cardboard were still being recycled, as well as aluminum and steel, but they were not able to find anywhere that would accept their plastics. The article referred to a national trend of cities having more supply of recyclable waste than the country had capacity to process. City and suburban recycling programs had been too successful.

Madison finished her coffee, then moved her car to the student parking lot. She had a lot of time to kill before school. She looked over her notes on the story, pulled out her phone, and started working on her lead paragraph.

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