Photo Credit: Fellowship of the Rich

I recently had the pleasure of spending some time with an acquaintance named Eric. He has a cheerful disposition and somewhat erratic personality. It wasn’t until someone pointed out the resemblance that I finally realized why I was so amused when hanging out with him. Eric was Charlie Kelly from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, minus the selfish disregard for other people. He had some odd convictions and was ready to argue very loudly to defend them. The comparison was made apparent when he argued that it should be perfectly acceptable to eat food from the trash bin provided it was on top of the garbage rather than in it. Following his premise and argument, I have named this The Trash Boundary and will lay it out here.

Eric was adamant that there really was no magical line created by the rim of a trash can. Trash on a table top doesn’t change in character once it enters the trash can, yet we treat it so differently. You would eat leftover pizza that was on the table right? Well why wouldn’t you eat the same pizza that is in the trash, especially if the pizza was hermetically sealed in its box? For the sake of this argument, put aside possible contamination and assume that the trash can is clean, which is very likely to be the case with a new trash bag. Yet once the pizza passes this Trash Boundary, people hesitate to retrieve anything and are even chastised for going through garbage.

There was one concession Eric was willing to make–food that is “in” the trash, as opposed to “on“ the trash shouldn’t be eaten. That’s the line he’s unwilling to cross. Somewhat arbitrarily, as soon as there is additional trash on top of the target food item, it then becomes trash and inedible. I’ll admit this line is just as frivolous as the line that any food, once it goes into the trash, is off-limits, but it makes a little more sense. There is much more of chance of dangerous contamination once refuse has been piled on top of food, rather than when food is simply the last thing thrown out and sitting comfortable on top of the mountain of garbage.

Unlike Eric, I hesitate to make any brightline rule at all. His Trash Boundary is not much more logical than the one which most people respect. I would say that eating food out of the garbage should be determined on a factual, case-by-case basis. A sealed Hostess Twinkie under crumbled papers? That’s fair game. A half-eaten hot dog on top of a pile of diapers, surely not. Yet I suppose to some people, dumpster diving for food is a principled matter and should be forbidden under any circumstances. As one guy put it upon hearing Eric’s rant, “That’s a line you just don’t cross.” In some ways I can respect that conviction, as if your humanity is threatened by your baser instincts of hunt and gather. But I won’t judge anyone if their Trash Boundary is just a little further than someone else’s.

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