Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Please recycle after reading

Note: This column appears in the 10/15 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/16 issue of the Peoria Times



I have always been interested in recycling.

Not interested in the sense that I’d like to make a career out of it, but interested in the sense that when I throw something in the recycling bin, I wonder for a split second what will happen to it. That is the extent of my interest. As a result, I have written a column.

My family has always recycled, for as long as I can remember. I recall my dad tying up old newspapers and leaving them on the curb to be picked up, at which point it would rain, rendering everything non-recyclable. Those were great times.

I also recall being appalled when we first moved here upon discovering that Peoria did not recycle. I knew things were slower out west, but it nevertheless surprised me that the simple concept of using stuff over again as a means to save money and the environment had yet to “catch on,” as if it were some kind of fad, like the Internet. Luckily it was only a few months later that we received our giant, city-approved recycling bin, at which point we were instructed to throw all of our recyclables inside.

Again I was surprised. Back east we had to separate our paper from our cans, our cans from our cardboard, our hedge clippings from empty bottles of Absolute. Peoria didn’t seem to mind, which made me wonder if their recycling program was a big sham, and our giant bins were just emptied into the rest of the trash.

More disconcerting was the ever-present struggle between my wife and I on recycling-related issues. She prefers to recycle everything. Tin foil, hair, straws, pens when they run out of ink…anything. If I tell her we can’t recycle something, then she tells me to use it again on my own, which is why I’ve been using the same sandwich bag for six years. We have gotten in serious arguments about whether or not to recycle those things that eggs come in and the hard tin foil that pies come in, an issue made all the more complicated considering that we only eat eggs and pie. Also, my wife doesn’t think recyclables need to be washed. She’ll just throw an empty bottle of ranch dressing in the bin without even rinsing it out, and I’ll ask her what she expects the government to do with that, and then we get in a fight. It is terrible.

Recently I decided to do a modicum of research that put to rest some of my recycling concerns. For one thing, did you know that we’re not supposed to recycle pizza boxes or glass windows? Me neither. Every week I attempt to recycle at least four glass windows. I am embarrassed. Believe it or not, my wife was right about tin foil and pie plates – they can get recycled -- but I was right about them having to be clean first.

I discovered that the co-mingled recyclables that Peoria collects are separated in a processing facility. By a guy named Bert. Also, I had always assumed that like, a recycled can of Dr. Pepper was crushed, and then turned into a can of Mountain Dew or something. I was wrong. According to Peoria’s website, aluminum cans are turned into can sheet (?) and castings…cool! Old newspapers are recycled into food for the Internet, and plastic bottles are morphed into auto parts and fiberfill.

And that is why my muffler smells like ranch dressing.

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