Recently I watched a middle-aged man in a baseball cap and a decent-looking blue shirt and pants go through a recycling bin in my neighborhood. He might have been a neighbor, except for the fact that he had a shopping cart parked next to him, and he was exploring the contents of the bin with great deliberation, diving into its depths with his whole body immersed, so that only his legs showed as he scoured the bottom of the bin.
It is recycling and trash pickup day on my street, and apparently a busy one for this man. He is not stealthy. He is not looking around furtively to see if he might be watched. He sorts the contents into several piles, tossing cans and bottles in one direction, aluminum and plastic in another, discards in a third. There is no attempt to be quiet and unobtrusive. He is at his job, just like the city worker in his immense truck which will very soon chug down the street, embrace and upend the bin with its robotic arms, and swallow the remaining contents.
After scouring the bin, he checks the assorted piles. Cans and bottles go into a plastic bag, and from there into his shopping cart, already loaded with two other plastic bags bulging with cans and bottles. Plastic and aluminum he inspects and replaces in the bin. Miscellaneous discards he tosses back carelessly. Then he replaces the lid.
He rearranges his plastic bags in the shopping cart and pushes it briskly down the sidewalk, passing a pedestrian walking his dog, a mother wheeling her child in a stroller, an old man on his way to the park. Soon he is out of sight.
It is a busy day for him. A workday. He is putting recycling to the best of all possible uses. Survival.