Mysterious yellow powder on recycling bin


I’ve noticed a yellow powder accumulating on the blue recycling bins in various parts of the city. What is it? I haven’t seen it on the black trash cans.

— Observer, via email

I was a little in the dark on this one, since we don’t have the offending powder showing up anywhere near the Alice facilities. Grandma didn’t shy away from expressing herself on the matter, muttering something about people “needing better hobbies,” but I didn’t want to give in so easily. I checked with the city and with some of the city’s major waste removal contractors, and I got a whole bunch of confused waste management executives wondering why I was pestering them trying to find out about a mysterious yellow powder with an affinity for recycling bins. I poked and prodded them until I finally got some consensus. The word of the day is “pollen.” Blue recycling bins provide the perfect high-contrast background for yellow pollen to show up brightly whenever it’s floating about in the air, causing hay fever and other mischief. You could always try sniffiing some up your nose and seeing if it makes you sneeze, but I can’t recommend that with any kind of a clean conscience.

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I live in the Sierra Nevada Mountains about 500 miles north. Some windless summer days the pine tree pollen can deposit 1/2 inch thick. I can only assume you are seeing it due to electrostatic properties and contrast with the blue color.

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