Hoffman's Houston
Today's grammar lesson

The Harvey cleanup: That's not 'garbage' sitting in front of homes on flooded streets

Harvey cleanup: That's not 'garbage' in front of homes after the flood

Hurricane Harvey debris in Braes Heights neighborhood
Don't call this 'garbage.' Photo by Clifford Pugh

One man’s “garbage” is another man’s “debris” … if that other man is Harris County Engineer John Blount. I asked Blount, “When is the county going to pick up all the garbage sitting on lawns in front of people’s homes?”

I got the answer: The goal initially was by the end of the year. But the county is ahead of schedule.

Then I got a bonus grammar lesson: All that rotted, waterlogged wood and mattresses and dry wall and tables and chairs in front of homes isn’t "garbage." It’s "debris."

Here’s Blount's distinction and explanation.

“Debris refers to the remains of something destroyed, in our case, remains of a residence. Garbage refers to something discarded because it’s no longer wanted or needed. The technical difference is, what is the item composed of? And where can it be disposed?

“Debris is composed of inert, non-putrescible waste that degrades very slowly, or not at all – wood, sheetrock, carpet, etc. It can be disposed of at a TCEQ Class 4 landfill. Garbage contains items such as food waste, dead animals, and other putrescible, non-hazardous waste materials that decompose rapidly. Garbage is required to be disposed of in a TCEQ Class 1 landfill. 

“My old boss use to say, ‘after a week debris annoys, and garbage stinks.’ I hope that helps.”

OK, that clears up “garbage” and “debris.” I’ll get back to you next week on “putrescible.

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