There I was at the kitchen sink, armed with dish detergent, a sponge, scouring pad and an old toothbrush. I knew that I would be a while. Was I cleaning up after a dinner party? Had I let the dishes pile up? Was I taking drastic measures with my oral hygiene?
None of the above.
I was merely washing my recycling materials that had accumulated.
Remember when taking out the trash was a simple task?
At worst, it was an annoying chore; sometimes it would be forgotten or left for someone else to deal with. Back in the day, most of our garbage was relegated to trash bags / cans that was collected by the city. Many folks didn’t think twice about it; newspapers, empty food cans, milk cartons, jars, etc. all ended up in our waste bins and ultimately, in landfill sites.
Growing up in Montreal, I recall helping my father bring in the family’s empty beverage bottles to Steinberg’s grocer for cash refund. Fortunately, today, there are bottle depots that accept almost all drink containers for refund.
Some folks frugally reuse or repurpose items. Empty cans and jars have been used for collecting nails, screws and odds and ends. Newspapers have become improvised floor mats, pet litter, place mats, coasters, among other things.
Reusing our refuse is fine but we only need so many empty jars, cans and old newsprint.
Then came recycling. Large metal bins were placed in the parking lots of supermarkets where materials were deposited. Then came blue curb-side bins for weekly pick-up, then black bins for conventional garbage. Now, there are bins for composting. But all these bins are generating new problems; having to position them a certain way by the curb, bins getting blown / knocked down, remembering what days to put your bins out, etc.
Things have “bin” getting rather bothersome, no?
Styrofoam always seems to be a misfit item when it comes to disposal; we are not supposed to recycle Styrofoam but it sometimes ends up in the blue bins, anyway. People are reluctant to place it in the garbage because they know it takes essentially forever to biodegrade and is harmful to scavenging wildlife.
The condo building where I live in Calgary has a good recycling program for everything; paper products, cans, glass jars, plastics, and beverage containers. Also, each condo unit has a compost bucket with a lid which, when full (or reeking), is brought down to compost bins. The city – in addition to collecting trash and recyclables – collects the compost matter which is brought to a facility, thank you very mulch.
Our empty beverage containers are deposited in designated bins. A group of volunteer residents sorts and counts the empties. Every two or three months, a local bottle depot sends a truck for collection; any available volunteers then load the truck. A refund amount is issued to us for the empties. The money is earmarked for the building’s social events and for charities.
I have been one of the volunteers for some time now. I could have helped out more often, but the sign-up sheet always fills up faster than the ink can dry.
The volunteer spirit is quite impressive.
Kudos to the volunteers — and to those who dispose of their refuse properly.
But being eco-friendly has become rather tedious. Perhaps I am overly fastidious, but have you ever tried to rinse out an empty bottle of shampoo or liquid detergent? Sometimes, even after filling it with water, shaking and emptying it, there is still some stubborn, infernal, sudsy residue.
How about cleaning empty fish cans? Simply rinsing them with water isn’t always enough. In some cases, I have filled the cans with soapy water for a while and they were still oily and smelled fishy. I even resorted to using scouring pads and old toothbrushes to remove as much residue as possible.
Years ago, I made the mistake of putting an empty salmon can in the dishwasher. The resulting aroma in my apartment was comparable to a dumpster behind a seafood restaurant during a heat wave.
And the can still wasn’t entirely clean!
Meanwhile, cats were showing up at my apartment ready for a fish-feeding frenzy. Some of them were even wearing lobster bibs and brought tartar sauce and lemon.
As a recycler, my intentions are good but I sometimes wonder if it makes much of a difference in “saving the planet.” On top of using water to drink, bathe, cook and clean, now we are using more water – and maybe detergent – to wash what we no longer need. Meanwhile, we are encouraged to conserve water.
The remnants of fruits and vegetables are compostable but any plastic labels must be removed and relegated to the black bin (conventional garbage). Plastic soup and yogurt containers and their lids are recyclable but not the inner plastic seals.
In the world of recycling, size does matter. According to the City of Calgary, if a plastic lid is more than 7.5 centimeters (about 3 inches in diameter), it qualifies for recycling. I wonder if the sales of rulers and tape measures have increased.
Paper envelopes can go into the blue cart (recycling) but their cellophane windows are to be separated and tossed into the black bin. And like Styrofoam, cellophane is still old-fashioned trash.
I heard on the news that black plastics are not recyclable; apparently, they contaminate other plastics.
Cereal boxes are recyclable but the inner plastic bags that contain the cereal are not. Furthermore, plastic cutlery, drinking straws, twist-ties, among other things, are not recyclable.
Honestly, even the most diligent, conscientious recycler must become exasperated with all the dos and don’ts of disposal. We almost need a library of how-to manuals just to keep up with everything we must remember.
As for composting, now we have a third bin to contend with. If you have a garage, the trio of bins may compete for space with bicycles, lawn-mowers, unused furniture – and maybe even your car(s). If you live in an apartment, your compost bucket and your kitchen trash pail not only take up space but they join forces to create malodorous emanations. Often, I have to dump my decaying detritus before the bags are even half full.
For a while, I had a hell of a time opening my compost bags; it was akin to trying to split a dime in two with my fingers. But my mother – after pre-opening a few bags for me – suggested that I wet my fingers beforehand. Thanks, Ma.
On the plus side: composting bags bio-degrade faster than conventional trash bags since they are composed of plant matter. I wonder how they would taste with Ranch dressing. “Lunch bag” suddenly has new meaning.
While recycling has generated more employment and less landfill clutter, you wonder about the materials used in the recycling process. Consider the machinery, the buildings that house the machinery, the vehicles for collection, the gasoline for these vehicles, etc. All these contribute to the detriment of the Earth’s atmosphere. Mind you, I’m not condemning recycling but we just can’t win.
Now and then, don’t you perversely miss the old days of just tossing your refuse in the communal garbage? When papers, plastics, metals, etc. were all one big happy family?
Oh well, I better get back to my drudgery; I have empty containers to rinse and recycle, trash to toss, yogurt lids to measure, etc.
Please remember to recycle this article.