I have been having some very dirty thoughts lately, and it’s been driving my wife bonkers. “Just look at all the litter!” I’ll exclaim numerous times a day. “Why is there so much rubbish on the street? Why aren’t there more bins in this city? Why does Philadelphia [where I live] have such a subpar municipal waste management system?” These are all valid questions (there is a reason Philly has the nickname Filthadelphia), but my wife doesn’t want to hear about city sanitation any more. “Please,” she keeps saying, “get over it!”
The thing is, I can’t get over it. Is it a function of middle age? Am I losing my mind? I don’t know what has precipitated it, but I am hung up on waste management. I have gone full disgusted-of-Tunbridge-Wells about it, as we all should, really. Litter isn’t just unsightly and unhygienic, it is associated with more crime and antisocial behaviour: cleaning up neighbourhoods makes them safer. Sanitation workers are the unsung heroes of the streets: the US should be diverting some of the money it gives to its bloated police departments to street cleaners. If I was going to run for mayor (I’m not), that would be at the top of my policy platform.
Also on my policy platform: come up with more imaginative ways to deal with trash. Look at Taiwan. They have this fascinating system where rubbish isn’t supposed to touch the ground. You are responsible for throwing your household waste into rubbish trucks yourself; the trucks play little musical jingles, like ice-cream vans, so you know when they’re in your area. It forces people to take responsibility for their waste and encourages them not to produce so much of it. Unfortunately, I’ve reached my word limit so will have to continue this conversation with my wife. She’ll be delighted.
• Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist