The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

Recycling can be a bother, but …

Two people's reusable recycleable plastic and glass trash in Gettysburg Adams County South Central Pennsylvania
We had a compost pile when I was young. Newspapers had a variety of uses, from wrapping other waste to starting fires to rolling tightly and burning as logs.

We had a town dump where I was raised. It was a great place for weekly social gathering. It’s amazing how much business is decided — personal, commercial and governmental — at such meet-ups. I suspect the town dump was slightly ahead of the local general store or bank for such informal meetings. And it was a great place to find a washing machine or bicycle part, or a collection of cardboard boxes or that just-right piece of pipe.

Then it became a cult with the city folks. The problems that caused out in the country were largely attributable to those new to the religion telling those who were raised that way how to get it done. That’s probably a subject for another day, but it was based on a good idea, and here I am, living in the ‘burbs, cutting up cardboard and hauling mixed glass to the curb.

What always has bothered me about the formal, “citified” recycling is the preparation. Back in the day if you wanted to flatten a bunch of cardboard, you turned the kids loose. Shortly, they’d have all the boxes stomped flat, and thought it was great fun doing it. Now, the slabs of glued-up paper have to fit in that two-foot-square hole in the side of the recycling truck.

I spent nearly an hour this afternoon cutting and folding cardboard — a 24-pack of cat food, and several cake mix boxes; innumerable small cartons that once contained pharmaceuticals, nail polish, hair care liquids, tooth paste and other personal care products. That’s the odd part: included in the price we pay at the store is a for the box with the pretty pictures to get us to buy what’s in the bottle inside the box.

We had DirecTV installed, and the installer did not take his waste away with him. Count off a couple more cardboard boxes. The good news was one of them was large enough to hold the rest of the week’s contribution, and small enough to fit in that two-foot hole.

We are allowed to mix our plastic and glass, so how much we have of each is a little less noticeable. I know all 24 of those cat food cans are in the wheeled trash “barrel” with the red-and-white Recyclables Only sticker. And a wine bottle. A dozen or so plastic bottles that once contained what my granddaughter called “fuzzy water” —carbonated water that I drink instead of soda. A peanut butter jar. A couple of jars that once held salsa, sauerkraut and salad dressing.

And we’re only two people.

That’s the good part of being required to “gift wrap” the trash. OK, we don’t need to actually put a ribbon around it, but we do have to prepare it for the truck, and that means noticing how much junk we should have left at the store.

The thing is, when we suburbanites and city dwellers tossed all that stuff in trash bags, before it became cool — or mandatory — to recycle, we didn’t really notice how much of it there was. For a fee, often straight out of our taxes so we didn’t even notice the expense, a truck came by and made it disappear.

Now it takes an hour or so, maybe more if we rinse the jars before dropping them in the bin, to prepare the stuff to be hauled away.

I wonder what would happen if we started unboxing stuff at the checkout counter and leaving the detritus for the manufacturer to pick up.


  1. It’s pretty cool, Portland recycles EVERYTHING. There is very little that goes into the trash and Kellie, myself, and our roommate Ruth only produce ~1 bag of trash a week. Which is good because Portland mandates that we use only “Portland City Trash Bags” which are really expensive (I think that it is close to $1 a bag).

    • John

      October 2, 2010 at 10:21

      There was some talk of the town bags where I live when they were getting started, but they finally decided that including it in the haulers’ contracts, then making it mandatory (though still not in all towns, yet) was a better way to go.

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