Environmindful Monday Tip #12 – Recycling Is Not An Option


When did you first become aware of recycling, do you recall?  My first memory was in high school, Freshman year, or maybe slightly before, but in the mid-1980s.  Why do I remember this?  Because we got a can crusher!

I remember thinking that was the coolest thing ever.  At fifteen, most things were cool… unless of course they weren’t.  Anyway, my dad hung the can crusher just outside the door from the house to the garage in our new house.  I loved that thing!  I couldn’t wait for someone to empty a can of pop (soda for those of you who don’t live in Minnesota) or beer.  I would grab the can, set it on the little shelf, pull down the lever (which doubled as a handle) and C-R-U-N-C-H!  Ooo… the power I felt crushing cans was awesome!  When I was done I’d take my little disc of metal and toss it in the bag below the crusher.  I would repeat.  Set, C-R-U-S-H, ting…  set, C-R-U-S-H, ting… Yeah!

Can crushers made recycling fun.  That’s right.  I thought recycling was fun!  Then can crushers went away.  “They” said we didn’t need them any more and in fact didn’t even want us crushing the cans.  Bummer.  Somehow tossing them in a paper bag didn’t have the same effect as smashing them down to bits, but, whatever.  I continued sorting the cans.  Then the bottles.  They had to be sorted by color of glass: a bag for clear glass, a bag for brown glass, a bag for green glass. Oh, and newspaper.  A bag for that too.  I have a self-diagnosed split personality (not like Jekyll and Hyde… although maybe my family disagrees) no, I have my über organized side and my über, shall we say, “creative” side.  My über organized side LOVED sorting and organizing the recycling.  Seriously.  I took this on as a very serious task when I was a teen.  I’m not sure what it was at that point in time that made me realize that recycling was important, but I did.

And I still do.  Today, however, my focus is different, most likely because I have a child and I want the absolute best for him (or at least as best as I can offer).  These days I am a little less obsessed in the organizing the recycling mentality and way more obsessed in the “we gotta do this” mentality.  Recycling has been on my mind a lot lately, and by lately, I’d say at least the last year.  Okay, in reality it’s probably one of those thoughts that are always swirling around in the back of my mind, but in the past year it’s been demanding a little more attention than it has in the past.

Remember a few of months ago when I started this Environmindful Monday post?  I was pretty torqued about the report I heard about the amount of trash that we are producing in Minnesota.  After thinking it over for a while, I realized that part of what made me so upset was the volume of material going to the trash heaps that could be recycled.  It got me thinking and questioning why people aren’t recycling?  Yes, I realize you probably think I’m crazy, but this is indeed the stuff I spend a lot of time thinking about when I’m not focused on the current task at hand.

I was questioning accessibility.  Are there designated places for people to put their recycling when out and about?  Although they aren’t in every location yet, in general, I would say that even if you have to look a little bit, most places have a recycling bin.  So that’s not it.  Are people just lazy?  I think sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Don’t people understand the impact?  Have they not been educated on the importance of recycling?  I’d have to say that for most, you’d have to have been living under a rock for the past 30-plus years to literally not “know” about recycling.  Even my nine-year-old son can be found singing “Re-cycle, re-cycle, recycle now… da, da, da…”

So what is it?  Here is the conclusion I came to.  Over the holidays, and even into January, I attended a number of parties varying in size, age of attendants and formality of the event.  What I observed at these events, and in general, is that the mindset of the majority of people who I observed is that recycling is “optional”.  Are you following me?  People think that recycling is a choice like should I buy Coke or should I buy Pepsi?  Do I feel like making my can garbage today or recycling it?  The mindset of the general public, and yes, I’m generalizing, is that recycling is an option.  There isn’t a law saying that we have to recycle.  So we do when we feel like it and don’t when we don’t feel like it.  We also, when given a situation where there isn’t a recycling can next to a garbage can, will throw a plastic bottle or can into the trash, letting ourselves off the hook with the thought of “I didn’t have an option, there wasn’t a recycling can”.  Another example: I was at a party in someone’s home recently and when I asked if they had recycling somewhere they giggled and said, “No… I’m being bad.  I don’t have one today.”  As much as it bothered me that A) they didn’t have recycling and B) they were aware that they should, I didn’t want to insult or offend them so I didn’t say anything… and proceeded to throw my can in the garbage.

In a different circle, I never would have done that.  Had I known them better, I would have said something, but that, I believe, is our problem.  We aren’t in a place where recycling is mandatory.  We are still living with the mindset that recycling is optional and that it’s not our place to tell another person what to do.  If it were mandatory or not optional in everyone’s mind, that situation would have been different.  They either would have had recycling to begin with, or because it isn’t considered optional, the conversation would be easier to approach.

So how do we change this?  That’s what my mind will be mulling over and tossing around for the next, who-knows-how-long.  Until we all decide that recycling is important, that it’s a necessity, and not an option, things aren’t going to change.  But it needs to change because there really aren’t any reasonable excuses any more.  We wouldn’t go to a party and ask where to throw the trash and have someone laugh and say, “Oh, I’m being bad today.  I don’t have a garbage.” That’s not an option.  Neither is recycling.

The difference is, our trash, doesn’t create jobs.  Okay, yes, it creates a few jobs for those who haul it and move it and dig holes for it and try bury it and those who do toxic soil remediation.  But our recycling?  Many businesses and products are based on reusing glass, plastics and paper, and by choosing not to recycle, we are choosing not to support our economy and that just doesn’t make sense (or cents).

Whether you care about the environment, the Earth, the water we drink, the air we breathe and the soil we grow our food in or you care about the economy, both local and global, take that and make it your reason to care about recycling.  Pass that on.  Share it.  Educate people.  Talk about it. And recycle.  Always.  Let’s make recycling mandatory.  Because it is.

Be mindful.  And remember, no waste = more green space!



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