The Reluctant Recycler

I've spent too much time in front of these bins scratching my head, questioning the point of recycling ... and life.

Portland has been named the second greenest city in the world, so you can imagine how serious everyone takes their recycling here.

This was made more clear by our apartment manager, the first person we met when we moved here. On our initial tour of our complex, she emphasized the importance of separating our recyclables from our garbage and making sure they find the corresponding bin in the basement.

I consider it a victory when I get both shoes on my corresponding feet, so this whole make-sure-every-last-recyclable-item-finds-the-right-dumpster business was a challenge from jump street. For the first six months, we were pretty good at it. We even managed to fit three separate trash/recycling containers in our miniature kitchen.

Over time, we haven’t slacked on our recycling habits so much as ended the segregation of our waste products altogether. We’re letting the glasses, aluminum, plastics, paper and garbage frolic together now in harmony. I barely got through my college science courses, so for me, separating recyclables is like splitting an atom. Not to mention, the rules surrounding what’s recyclable and what’s not read like a Congressional bill. So yes, when the world ends, you can blame us. Posthumously, of course.

In Oregon, consumers are assessed a five-cent deposit with each purchase of an aluminum can or plastic bottle. This is like the convenience fee of the recycling world. It may not seem like much, but no one likes surcharges. Although there’s a deposit center across the street from us, I don’t like spending a Saturday morning tossing dozens, er, a few old beer cans into a machine to get MY $1.15 back. I usually just leave the cans nearby for a homeless person to claim. Cans and bottles are like a second currency among the less fortunate here.

You might be thinking, “Andrew, your laziness shows you don’t give a damn about our planet.”

That’s not true.

I take the MAX to work every morning. I’m too lazy to walk all the way. I could drive my own car, but this way, I’m helping lower CO2 emissions.

At work, I use a coffee mug instead of paper coffee cups. I don’t like having to get up and go to the kitchen every 20 minutes. Part of recycling is reusing, you know?

Since we live across the street from the grocery store, I don’t use bags when I’m only purchasing a few goods. Fewer plastics bags means a smaller carbon footprint. Whatever that is.

I like the idea of recycling, but not the execution. Or maybe I don’t like the passive-aggression surrounding it. Whenever a stranger sees me not recycling somewhere in public, I feel like I’ve dropped their baby.

Maybe that’s a good thing, though. Now, there’s an expectation that everyone should recycle. It’s no longer extra credit, but rather part of the test. When any generally good action goes from above and beyond to the status quo, we’ve achieved some level of progress.

Me, personally, I’d like to see that progress assisted by robots that can divide garbage and recyclables on my behalf. I don’t care if it’s made out of recycled metals or runs on compost, but I’m too tired — OK, too lazy — to go and save the world.

What’s your take? Do you recycle? What are you doing to help the environment?

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6 thoughts on “The Reluctant Recycler

  1. Working in a pharmacy we throw away 2 things. Plastic bottles and paper. And A LOT of it. At my old job I used to cringe and complain at the site of the bags as I tossed it into the garbage. My boss would assure me we couldn’t recycle because of the whole HIPAA laws. Liar. Now working in Portland we recycle everything at work. It’s much more fulfilling when done in mass quantities of say 4 industrial size garbage bags a day compared to your oatmeal packet you have every morning.

  2. Cambridge/Boston is pretty hardcore about the recycling, but especially Cambridge. Since we moved across the river, it’s like required or you get beaten by the Green Police from that Super Bowl commercial.

    I feel the same way about cans and bottles, we collected a ton of them once, but with no car and no nearby distribution center we found that costs of hoarding gross, stinky beer cans and renting/borrowing/stealing a car to redeem them vastly outweighed any potential profits.

    As such, they are fodder for the homeless. I get to feel like I’m giving to charity and they do most of the sorting of my recycling by taking the glass and aluminum away.

    It’s a win-win.

  3. Now I’m even being told to take the caps off plastic bottles, throw those away and recycle the bottle. Apparently they can’t recycle that plastic. I’m with you on this one. Recycling is kind of a pain, so I’ve been trying to create less waste and reuse more often.

    • In my mindset, plastic is plastic is plastic. You can’t go and make a plastic no. 7 and expect people to deviate that from the others. Seriously, I’d rather do your taxes than sort your trash.

  4. It’s a tough loss coming in #2 for Portland-ers. I mean, what’s so great about San Francisco anyway? My brother, a fellow Portland resident, would point the finger at you for being #2…half-assing your recycling!
    He & his wife are the epitome of recyclers. If it can’t be recycled, chances are they don’t use it. They just welcomed a child into this world and to prove their resilience, they are using cloth diapers (made of recycled materials, mind you). It’s a different lifestyle, that’s for sure.
    Just don’t let your neighbors catch you not sorting your glass, plastics and paper!

  5. The Reluctant Recycler Redux « The Miller Times

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