Reduce, reuse and recycle anyway

Forgot about the bag of cardboard in my trunk when I drove my stuff to the recycling center the other day.  Only after I’d driven the three miles back did I stop and think about the wastefulness of it.  How many cereal boxes had I cancelled out the effects of recycling by squandering gas on that return trip?

I should have just left the cardboard in the trunk of the car until my next trip to the recycling center.  But it might have gotten in the way and inconvenienced me.  Wouldn’t want to be inconvenienced.

That’s the problem with recycling.  No matter how committed a person may be to reducing, reusing, and recycling waste, no matter how good a system they have devised, it’s still inconvenient.

Let’s stop also to consider the inordinate amount of another resource, water, I expend each time I recycle glass, plastic, and metal cans.  Labels must be soaked off, plus every container is required to be clean before it goes to the recycling center.  Who wants to leave containers with food remnants hanging around the house in hot weather?!

Saving the world one recyclable item at a time is a lot of hassle.

It wasn’t always like this.  When I was a kid, the environment seemed as rosy as our cheeks.  We threw all paper items in the kitchen wastebasket, which was lined with one of the now virtually extinct brown paper grocery sacks.  Every couple of days, whichever kid was old enough to be trusted with matches took the whole thing out to the burn barrel.  Of course this was before the heavy users of cheap aerosol hairspray had irreparably damaged the ozone layer, back when we could happily burn with the EPA’s blessing.

The rest of our trash was thrown into a black bag-lined garbage can, which we either left out by the road for garbage pick-up or took to the dump.  Yes, the dump.

It was a much easier system back then.  Only two choices:  Toss or burn.  As an adult faced with multiple recycling responsibilities, a simple system is no longer good enough.  I now need a full-scale home recycling operation that spans two floors, four rooms, and six containers.

Refundable bottles and cans go into a tall white trash can on my enclosed porch.  Recyclable plastic containers are flung down the basement stairs into an awaiting cardboard box.  Magazines go into a wooden crate in the family room.  Newspapers and cardboard have their respective bins in the laundry room.  They’re flanked by a pink wastebasket that holds metal cans and bottles.  Styrofoam containers get stacked on the floor alongside.

I spend a lot of time stepping around and tripping over my recycling.  I devote hours annually to cleaning and sorting, bagging, and boxing.  Most difficult is keeping the kids out of it.  They envision inventions where I see just junk.

I’m also particular about where some of my recycling goes.  The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program where I work gets my refundable pop containers.  A friend who raises chickens inherits my egg cartons.  I used to donate my newspapers to the animal shelter until the Union City Habitat for Humanity began collecting newspapers as a fundraiser.  Homeless families trump homeless animals in my recycling scheme.

The recycling center down the street from work takes the rest, including those annoying white plastic bags that seem to multiply faster than the deer population.  I can also get rid of old phone books and magazines there.  One-stop recycling heaven under a paved pavilion.  Embarrassingly, that thrills me.

What I’m left with for my efforts is about one bag of trash per week that I pay three times as much to have hauled away as my parents did when they were tossing out three times as much stuff.

Irony and energy aside, I do believe in recycling.  Reducing, reusing, and recycling are important to the future of our planet.  I repeat that mantra more loudly on the summer days when I have my car loaded to the gills with recycling only to smell a plastic milk jug I didn’t rinse quite thoroughly enough the week prior.

Recycle anyway.


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