Bucharest’s pedestrianised old centre is filled with concrete tubes stuck to the ground and covered in pebble-dash.
It is unclear what is the purpose of this urban furniture in the Romanian capital’s buzzing hub of beer, pizza and prostitution.
But the public reacts to their presence by chucking trash inside them.
The tubes have no canopy, so rain collects in the bins, creating a soup of cigarette butts, beer cans, stale bread and banana.
The only method of cleaning them is with a giant industrial vacuum which sucks out the contents.
But since last year, these bins have been unemptied.
Bucharest’s poor sift through every bin to pick out meagre treasures, such as a half-eaten fried chicken wing, a few slurps of flat Coke or a gnawed pizza crust.
But they leave what is found here.
Inside these tubes is the trash of trash.
It must be early summer.
The evening begins.
An ice cream cone to cool off.
Layer the stomach with some pretzels.
A coffee to wake up.
Drunk straight from the bottle.
A street bench party.
But don’t drink too much…
…because this one smells of sick.
It smelt of sick eight months ago in November.
The late Autumn storms blew in and flooded the sick with rain.
Then Winter came and the sick was frozen.
Like a sorbet of vomit.
In Spring the ice thawed and a faint aroma of sick returned.
Now it is Summer and the the scent is thick and heavy, drifting through the street and hanging in the air.
I think it is the same sick as November.
It might be some new sick.
If it is new sick then this is the bin the tourists of the historic centre of Bucharest choose to be sick into.
This one has king-size underpants.
And this one has a bra.
It is 30 degrees centigrade outside – yet someone is wearing a fingerless glove.
This one smells of poo, although I could not find any poo inside.
This one has a poo inside.
I think it is cat poo or the poo of a very small human.
The cat or the very small human has defecated onto a business card from a massage parlour, which is probably a front for a brothel.
This one has an expensive necktie.
It is opposite the statue of Vlad the Impaler.
A meeting place.
A woman arrived to rendezvous with her lover by the statue.
She had bought the garish necktie to heighten her level of sophistication.
But notice the pattern.
It’s leopard fur, isn’t it?
She wanted to show she had wild impulses.
But he was late.
Time moved on.
Twenty minutes… thirty.. forty… a full hour
And still he did not come.
She called his number on her phone, but there was no response.
Her tears fell heavy, staining the necktie…
…which she pulled off and plunged into the swamp of cigarette packets, apple cores and wrappers of Vanilla-Choco ‘Panda’ Ice Cream.
And there it lingers, soaking up the cocktail of refuse, looking for company, but so steeped in filth, it will remain untouchable.
Rather than remove the bins from the streets or clean them properly, the Bucharest authorities have found three novel solutions for this public health hazard.
Fill them with concrete…
…It is not clear whether they remove the trash first, or whether it stays encased inside, fossilising.
Cover them with soil…
…now an ash-tray and a nest for flies.
Wrap them in plastic…
…This does not solve the health problem and instead turns the bin into a giant condom of wet gunk.
Some resemble an installation a lazy art student has raced to finish the night before his final exam – construction waste (found objects!), a burnt-out light bulb (allegory!), a cigar butt (contrast!).
…While a hippy pharmacy has created the most enterprising option
Can it survive? Really? Can it? Is there hope? Is there any hope?
One month later
and replaced by ice cream debris and an empty bottle of ‘Stalinskaya’ – a vodka brand happy to commemorate the murderer of 60 million people
A Romanian version of this article appears on Think Outside the Box