Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Notice that recycle is third on this and most lists. I’m just in from the Keep Texas Beautiful 2019 Conference, having learned a lot about various topics including recycling. I made a faux pas (transferring a spoon from a container of meat-seasoned beans to a container of rice with a vegetarian right behind me. He was kind and said, “I’ll use the other spoon and get some rice from the other side of the pan”). I learned that recycling has both temporal and spiritual applications.
In my town, we have a system in which recyclables are removed once a week from a small blue container. Many cities these days use much larger rolling bins. We aren’t going to that system any time soon apparently, but this is not the time to discuss that decision. Rather, I want to discuss recycling in general. The Environmental Protection Agency has a pledge you can sign which includes this passage: “My organization pledges to work together with EPA and the other America Recycles Pledge signatories to build on our existing efforts to address the challenges facing our nation’s recycling system and to identify solutions that create a more resilient materials economy and protect the environment.” Signatories. Big word. Some of the organizations include Amazon and Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company and Puerto Rico Waste Management Authority, Clackamas County Oregon and re:nü Waste Management (question: Why not just renew?). Not a long list and not very inclusive. Puzzling. I’m not sure why it doesn’t just say “I will recycle.” Challenges to the system, not so compelling. Locally, the list of things that can be recycled is also rather short. Paper, glass, aluminum and steel cans, plastics #1-7. No Styrofoam, no plastic bags, no aerosols, no pizza boxes, no plastics with hazardous waste, no wax-coated containers.
What’s not on the list and, in general, what the main problem is—contamination. As one person put it at the conference, you can’t have a great collection of recycled cans and throw your chili cheese fries into the mix. Contamination is probably the leading factor in rejection of recyclables, followed by market considerations. China, once the primary consumer of American recyclables, no longer accepts them. Most communities, then, must either pay more for placement elsewhere or simply trash the trash.
So, the lesson here…and from the conference…is to use less or reuse what you have. Currently, recycling is an issue with complications. We’ll act like we’re doing it, and it feels illegal to throw a plastic bottle away, but that’s the reality. One recycling exhibitor gave me a lovely pothos ivy in a laundry jug she’d adapted as a planter. She just preferred not to load it up. Or maybe I admired it once too often.
But there’s more. This was just the temporal side of recycling. The spiritual side takes an explanation: Beware of recycling bad ideas. Several years ago, when I went to my first orientation after being accepted to write some guest columns at The Dallas Morning News, a man in our group came in early and handed out his business card with his new blog info on it. We all rolled our eyes; I doubt anyone read it.
I have become that man. At the conference, I talked to anyone who would listen about my For the Girls of Laredo podcast, which hasn’t launched just yet but will soon I hope oh please. I even met some women from Laredo who were helpful. Perhaps more helpful than they would have liked to have been. (That’s some fancy verb work for eye rolling.) Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but afterward I felt like I may have crossed the line, and not just with the contaminated spoon.
So, the lesson here…be passionate but not intrusive. Believe but don’t irritate. If you find yourself doing something you don’t admire in someone else, stop. That’s a long list sometimes.