When I was young there was no such thing as recycling, per se.  We still produced a whole lot less trash than the average family today, because we had a whole lot less stuff, and what we had was often reused (e.g. milk bottles).  Food scraps went, not into the trash or down the sink, but into a compost pile in the back yard, where hardworking worms and bugs and microbes recycled it their own way into fertile soil.

Times changed.  Almost without being aware of it we had become a disposable society, and our piles of trash grew.  And grew.  Newspapers could be recycled—indeed, one could make good money by collecting people’s old papers and taking them to the paper plant.  But metal, glass, and the ubiquitous varieties of plastic went straight to the landfill.

Finally, cans and bottles began to be recycled, but one had to be committed to the cause to drive one’s accumulation to a place that would accept it.

Today we have two recycling bins in our garage, one for newspapers, magazines, and cardboard; the other for steel cans, aluminum cans, glass, and all forms of plastic with a recycling number.  Once a week a special truck comes right to our driveway and empties them.  At the grocery store I can easily recycle plastic bags and Styrofoam.  Other cities collect office paper.  Auto parts stores will accept used motor oil.

Recycling is no longer a money-making proposition, at least not for most individual citizens, but curbside collection has greatly improved community involvement.  We may never reach the remarkable Swiss compliance rate (81% for PETE plastic, 91% for aluminum cans, 60-80% for other forms of aluminum, 94.6% for glass bottles and containers) but it’s certainly better than it was 40 years ago.

We’ve always recycled whenever we could (and try to reuse, and use less, as well), but I’m thankful for community-based recycling, both for the convenience and for the way it encourages widespread participation.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 1:12 am | Edit
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