Please Recycle Me
The ever-present San Pellegrino bottle sloshing around my CR-V floorboards is a percussive reminder of two things: one, that I'm slowly but surely becoming my mother, sparkling water affinity not excluded; two, that Nashville's recycling situation is seriously lacking.
Hi, my name is Emma and I'm a recycling hoarder. I grew up in Northern California, where throwing a recyclable in the trash was the cardinal sin for the responsible citizen and where our curbside bins were all evenly sized. When my mom moved back to my birthplace of Seattle, I was elated to find the compost bin was the papa bear of the disposal options. Next to it sat a recycling bin Greenilocks would have found "just right" and at the end of the row was a black box of one cubic foot, with contents headed straight for The Curséd Landfill of Shame.
Now pan over to Nashville, where the local waste management gives you one giant bin for it all. You can order a recycling bin of equal size, but this is by request only. You of course then run the risk of your bin being stolen, a weirdly common phenomenon in certain neighborhoods, including some of those in which I've lived. So let's say you order your recycling bin and you spray paint your house number on it really big on all sides and you guard it religiously like I did: you're now set for your recycling pick up - once a month. If you have a sharp enough memory (I do not) to recall which day a month that is, then congratulations (and teach me your ways). If not, you end up with enough recyclables to build a sizable fort and a choice: to toss or not to toss? The landfill bin sings its siren song: so close and convenient, my dear. But I cannot silence the voices of the recycling gods I've known since childhood. So I plop my offering of nicely rinsed plastic bins and flattened cardboard boxes in the backseat of my car. I then drive around with said offering for at least three days before remembering to actually drop off it off.
And then there's glass. Oh yes. Did I mention that glass is a completely separate issue? If you put glass in your recycling bin, you may as well have thrown the entire thing in the landfill bin in the first place. Glass must be driven to the nearest municipal locale that provides bins for glass recycling. For me, this is a high school. I am the shady person unloading months worth of wine bottles into a high school glass bin - someone save me.
Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps you too can hear the song our stuff sings all together: the crinkle of breakfast bar wrappers, the thump of grocery bags on the counter; the swipe of the card, the beep of "approved"; the click of the laptop keyboards and phone lock buttons. And when we are done, the lid opens, the trash plops, the lid clicks closed again. This is our anthem; and recycling is the dissonant sound of hope's weary persistence in disposable America.
I am searching. For ways to respond actively to the information I'm learning about the world around me. For answers on my role as a part of the existing ecological and social systems, which can either oppress or empower. For understanding when it comes to the deep connection between stewardship of the physical and the spiritual.
One way Jackson and I are choosing to take action is by evaluating what, why, and how we buy.
We're swapping boxes of pasta for glass containers we can fill up in the bulk aisle. We're composting with friends (thanks, Compost Nashville!) We're actually using our reusable bags (all praise to the Bag of Bags on the hook next to our front door). We're buying less. When we do buy, we're choosing items made from recycled materials. (Like these leggings are made from recycled plastic water bottles with an ethical approach to factory work). We're reading anything we can get our hands on to learn more. So far, we can recommend the Story of Stuff, Zero Waste Home, and this series of TED talks on sustainable design.
And now we're crowd-sourcing: what do you do to care for the world around you?
The process of learning to care is humbling, frustrating, uphill, effortful, slow, and rewarding. I am finding myself - my ideas of how stuff is used, made, and valued - being recycled. New from old with each iteration of self. If this is what glory to glory feels like, then please recycle me. Leave nothing purposeless, nothing discarded, nothing unredeemed.