Grade school science class is where your children might first hear about recycling. I used to sheepishly duck the question, “Why don’t we recycle, Mom?” There’s nothing like your own children calling you on your Earth Day principles.
Under the scrutiny of big, worried eyes in a small, innocent face, my stomach began to churn with guilt. And with dread, for how I thought recycling would upend my life. Guilty feelings are powerful things though, so I agreed that we would try to recycle.
I started with the easy stuff – old homework and test papers cleaned out of the kids’ backpacks at the end of each semester, plus cardboard packaging from gifts at Christmas and birthdays. So basically four times a year . . . It was such a small amount of material that my husband just took it to work with him to add to the recycling bin there.
In the summer of 2018, Oklahoma City began providing to residents a full-sized dumpster for recyclable materials. Compared to the “little blue bin,” this “big green dumpster” totally changed my attitude toward recycling.
Something about the city committing to purchasing one of these (no-doubt) expensive dumpsters for every qualifying household convinced me that I need to be committed to recycling too. This summer, we started recycling everything that fit the guidelines (conveniently posted on top of the dumpster for people like me who forget easily). It opened my eyes to how much packaging we used to throw away every single day.
Basically, it comes down to three categories that make up the bulk of our recycling.
Plastic, so much plastic! Every single day a pile that requires two arms and hands to keep from dropping butter tubs, shampoo bottles, or milk jugs as I make the trip to the recycling dumpster.
Another big contributor is cardboard cereal boxes. Apparently we must have all the different kinds of cereal. Pasta, crackers, cookies, baking mixes – all the processed foods which nutritionists warn us are bad for our health – are also a major source of recyclable packaging. We flatten the boxes and stack them on the laundry counter until it’s time for another trip to the recycling dumpster. Let me just say that even when flattened out, these boxes do not stack very well.
Then there are aluminum cans – and there are a lot of them. Not so much from sodas, but from all the canned ingredients that go in my family’s favorite meals. Now besides prepping and cooking the meal, and washing dishes afterwards, I have to rinse out aluminum cans too.
Recycling takes some work. It’s often inconvenient, it takes up precious counter space, and is sometimes smelly (even after it’s washed with soap and water, the feta cheese package still smells like dirty feet).
It is also very much worth the extra effort.
We love our earthly home and want to take care of it. We owe that to our kids and future generations.
BUT . . .
Recycling isn’t always easy. And there are a few obstacles I haven’t figured out a solution to yet.
I have a mental dilemma when cleaning out the used containers. If I am using paper towels, hot water, and dishwashing liquid to clean out the giant peanut butter jar, am I wasting other resources in the process of trying to recycle?
The endless supply of plastic film bags is another thorn in my side. They aren’t accepted in the recycling dumpster, so I have to return them to the store from whence they came. I condense them by stuffing as many as I can into one bag until it looks like Frosty the Snowman’s mid-section. I put these bundles in my car trunk, in the hopes that I will remember to carry them in on my way into the “big store.” Let’s just say that if I am rear-ended while driving, we have no worries.
Nowadays, our “regular” trash is mostly food scraps, used paper towels and tissues, and packaging that isn’t really recyclable, like that from raw meat and oily pizza boxes.
The astounding reality of recycling is that our household of four people only produces about three bags of regular trash a week. But the beautiful recycling dumpster is chock-full when we roll it to the curb every two-three weeks as scheduled. I notice in my neighborhood of mostly fifty-somethings and retirees, that everyone on my street is regularly recycling.
It brings a lump to my throat when I think that it took my child asking me to please start recycling before I ever even tried a little. And it took a serious commitment from the City of OKC in providing the recycling dumpsters, before I realized I needed to step up and get with the program. Now that my eyes have been opened to the difference that recycling makes in our weekly trash output, I am determined, for our children’s sake, to never stop.