Here I am visiting with my son, his wife, and their children in Asheville, North Carolina. This morning I was outside enjoying the dawn and the crowing of the roosters when I looked with new eyes at the yellow recycling bins at the edge of their driveway. Soon I was rooting through that bin, pulling out boxes, cans, and a plastic bag or two. If the neighbors were observing this spectacle – an old guy in his pajamas digging through the trash – they might well suspect I had gone ‘round the bend.

Here are just a few of the items I found.

First up is a 15-ounce can of Sweet Peas distributed by Walmart. The ingredients are listed – peas, water, sugar, salt – as well as the total amount of fat, dietary fiber, and so on. On the top of the can are directions for removing the top. Stamped on the bottom is the “Best By” date – Dec 2022.

Boojum Brewing Company in nearby Waynesville, North Carolina, brewed and canned “Hop Fiend,” its India Pale Ale. Part of the advertisement on the side of the can, which is difficult to read because of the green background, announces that “Hops Hops Hops. Nothing else matters to a hops fiend.”

On an evening when I was dining with a friend, the family consumed a “Digiorno Four Cheese Rising Crust Original Pizza.” In addition to the usual nutritional and ingredient lists, the back of the Digiorno box features a five-step illustrated guide to preparing the pizza. Digiorno is a product of the Nestle Company, and a few lines of small print inform us that “all trademarks are owned by Societe Des Nestle,” operating out of Switzerland.

Last on our agenda is the “Limited Edition Naturally Flavored Honey Nut Cheerios with Happy Hearts” from General Mills. The advertisement runs “Same Great Taste Now With Happy Heart Shapes” and that the cereal “Can help lower cholesterol as part of a heart healthy diet.” The cereal is distributed by General Mills, operating out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A cartoon bee on the back of the box, Buzz, tells us that “I hope these little heart shapes inspire happy hearts all across America.”

Amen to that, Buzz.

So what’s so special about trash?

Here are some thoughts:

Human inventiveness

Human beings designed every box, can, and wrapper. Human beings determined the nutritional value of the products. Human beings invented the products and the bar code, and wrote the advertising copy. All these products are the work of human hands and human minds.

Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”

The invisible hand refers to that unobserved market force in a free market that brings such goods to our homes. In addition to those who designed, for example, that box and its contents of heart-shaped Honey Nut Cheerios, farmers, factory workers, truck drivers, and stock clerks all had a part in making it available to us.

Nutrition and Health

Each of these products sports a list of the ingredients and calories designed to inform and protect consumers. The Boojum Hop Fiend, for example, contains a warning that pregnant women should avoid alcohol, and that it can impair your ability to drive a car. Watching your waistline? Stick to the peas. Feeling frisky? Have the beer and pizza.


Though companies sometimes recall foodstuffs deemed hazardous to our health, for the most part we can open these products up and eat them without fear of food poisoning.

The Environment

On the cardboard items described above are instructions for recycling. Neither the beer nor the peas contain a reminder about recycling. We may assume the manufacturers believe that most Americans know that cans are recyclable.


Were I an archeologist who had uncovered the yellow bin beneath some time-crumbled house, I would conclude that the inhabitants who once resided there ate and drank like kings and queens, and enjoyed foodstuffs from around the world.

Signs of the good life in America can be found in a pile of trash.

[Image Credit: Pixabay]