Cruncher vs. buncher: our family boxing match

We're into box season with the holidays, and my husband has been in training and is ready to rip. Last night he stood over the trash can and shredded a Dr. Pepper box into hundreds of ticket stub-sized pieces.

He's been trying for years to teach the rest of the household how to properly break down a box, but his message hasn't clicked.

"Are we throwing away air again?" he asks at least once a week when he lifts a tied-off trash bag that weighs about 9 ounces or whatever three empty Hamburger Helper boxes and one clunky pizza box weigh. (When will these pizza people make a takeout box that's edible?)

"Oh, consider it a vacation for your back," I tell him when he complains about my one-box-per- trash-bag habits.

I've been thinking about this topic outside the box (which is inside the kitchen and beside the fridge), and I've concluded that the world breaks down neatly into cardboard crunchers and cardboard bunchers.

The husband is a zealous cruncher. I've seen him stomp a detergent box, drag it around like a snowshoe until it's as flat as a fern, shred it, and then sprinkle it into the soggy coffee filter in the trash bag. He spends quality time on these sturdy pizza-delivery boxes, ripping off sections and stacking them up like a deck of playing cards.

If he had full run of trash disposal around here, he would devote days to compacting the garbage, whittling and compressing it into one sandwich baggie a week.

Of course I'm impressed, but I'll always be a cardboard buncher, and here's why: Trash bags are cheap and time isn't. I'm not going to waste precious minutes in these domestic boxing matches. (And no, we don't have curbside recycling here.) If the box is slightly smaller than the 33-gallon trash bag, I drop it in, perhaps bunch a little trash in and around it, tie off the bag, and get on with my life.

So what if it's just a family-sized rice box and the box that the new coffee pot was packed in? The trash truck will munch it to sandwich-baggie size, anyway.

To a dedicated cruncher, though, breaking down boxes and all trash is a sport and a matter of pride. For these folks, no box is too big to be tackled, and one little macaroni box successfully shredded to the size of a postage stamp leads to a desire to tackle bigger and tougher boxes.

And it's not just cardboard that crunchers break down. When a bad renter left behind a ratty, cigarette-scarred couch, my cruncher husband wasn't about to spend gas hauling it to the landfill. He took a chain saw, whacked it into manageable chunks of fluff and fabric, and carted it in trash bags to the curb.

With the Christmas season and its dozens of boxes landing on us, he's in box-breakdown heaven. Meanwhile, this ol' buncher has laid in a supply of 96-gallon trash bags.

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