Of late, it’s occurred to me that the recycling bin is a) a nuisance, occupying space in the garage where it blocks cabinetry I need to use; and b) rather a waste of time and effort. The painter has wanted it outside so he can stuff his used paper shielding strips in it, so it’s been parked in the front yard for the past week.
Meanwhile, a friend gave me about half-a-freezerful of high-end packaged goods: prepared meals from Omaha Steaks and Costco. The husband’s cardiologist informed them that they had to get completely off salt — that would be the same quack who gave me the same out-of-date and impractical advice a couple years ago. So they took that to heart and threw out or gave away literally months’ worth of food they’d stashed in in their freezer.
Understand, they’re both around 90 and so, sensibly enough, they tend to prefer packaged goods that can be heated in an oven or a microwave with minimal clean-up mess. These, as it develops, consist of a pile of salt with some food mixed in. So she donated a ton of food to her friends’ cause.
I fix a couple of these meals…and doing so, a small nightlight dawns:
The reason the blue recycling barrel seems like a ludicrous waste of time and effort to me is that about 90 percent of the stuff I slip into that thing (by way of avoiding having to make the mildly hazardous trip into the bum-infested alley) is NOT recyclable, per the City’s rules and regs. Why? Because I don’t eat that kind of food.
One of these ready-made meals — oversalted stewed mushroom beef over noodles — came in a box that was wrapped in stretchy plastic. Inside the box was a plastic container holding the food, and that was also covered in heat-seal plastic. So one meal — just ONE meal — came with THREE LAYERS of landfill-clogging packaging. By the time I’d sampled a couple of the things, I’d filled up the kitchen trash can!
Then some friends came over for a beading party. One of the women drinks, exclusively, diet soda, preferably diet Coke. I bought four bottles, since some of the other women will drink that gunk, too. So now I have two bottles of fake gunky drink to get rid of (donate? pour down the drain?) and four plastic bottles of the recyclable sort.
The fact is, I don’t eat that kind of thing, and I hate loathe and despise artificially flavored soda water. So…that means there’s a lot of wrappings, boxes, cans, and bottles that do not come into my house and so do not go out of my house.
When you buy real food, you do get some packaging waste:
- Meat comes on Styrofoam trays. Styrofoam is verboten in the recycling bins.
- It’s wrapped in heat-shrink plastic. Thin stretchy plastic is verboten in the recycling bins.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables come home in plastic grocery bags. Plastic bags are verboten in the recycling bins.
- Pasta comes in clear plastic bags. Clear plastic bags are verboten in the recycling bins.
- Rice comes in clear plastic bags. Clear plastic bags are verboten in the recycling bins.
- Beans come in clear plastic bags. Clear plastic bags are verboten in the recycling bins.
- Dog food (to the extent that I feed commercial dog food, which ain’t much) comes in waxy paper bags. Dog food bags are verboten in the recycling bins.
- I do buy some ice cream, but it’s packaged in cool little plastic “cans” with screw-on lids — I keep those for use around the house and yard. It’s not like I eat that much ice cream, after all.
- Costco wants to give you a box (i.e., they want you to carry their trash away) every time you shop there, but I have two big Tupperware bins in the back of the clunk, so I reject the cardboard boxes.
- I shred old documents and waste paper from my printer…that stuff can go right into the compost bin.
When you come right down to it, just about the only thing that’s recyclable here is the junkmail. And I’m beginning to think I should put stickers on that stuff saying “return to sender” and hand it back to the mailman. Or take it and dump it in the blue mailboxes: I’ve about had it with having to carry an entire mailbox full of trash to the blue barrel six days a week. Otherwise, almost everything I throw out isn’t supposed to go into the blue bin at all.
The city laid off the trash cops, pretty much eliminating the chance of a fine, so I toss most of that stuff in there anyway. But why, when I have to take the wet garbage and the dog mounds out to the alley two or three times a week, anyway? Normally I’ll store the few things that can’t go into the composter in the refrigerator (to keep it from stinking) till I get around to unlocking gates and braving the bums. (Damn, but I miss my German shepherds…) Dog shit gets collected and stashed out of sight and smelling range until I take out the food waste.
If I have to go out to the alley anyway, and if in fact almost nothing of what goes into the blue barrel is supposed to go into the blue barrel, why do I have that giant blue thing taking up space in the garage? Why am I rolling it out to the curb every Thursday, willy nilly; then picking up the trash that gets dumped all over the yard, the sidewalk, and the street; picking up the busted barrel that the guy has tossed on its side in the road; and dragging it back in the garage to block the storage cabinets?
As it develops, picking up and sorting and delivering all that recyclable (and not-so-recyclable) trash costs taxpayers a lot of money: funding that is taken away from health care, schools, and other basic services. The effectiveness of these programs is not altogether a given. Here and there, people are actually questioning their usefulness., whether they’re worth the cost, whether popularizing curbside pick-up is a wise idea, and whether it would be more sensible, cost-effective, and kinder to the environment to legislate against all the wasteful packaging that produces all that unnecessary trash in the first place.
So with Painter Dude monopolizing the blue barrel this week, I’ve been testing the idea that except for the junk mail, all of the trash can go out to the alley. And y’know: it’s working. There’s not much extra stuff to haul out there, and what there is, is almost all non-recyclable.
After the trash guys pick up the last of the painter’s paper stuff, I am rolling that barrel out to the Bum Cage in the alley, where it can reside out of sight and mind. The few recyclables I have — maybe one wine bottle every couple weeks, a few beer cans a week, and a Maker’s Mark bottle about once every three or four months — can go into a neighbor’s bin on pickup morning.
As for the junk mail: “Return to Sender!”