Many times I can remember standing over a recycling bin with something in my hands that should be recycled, something that I wanted to recycle, something I didn’t want to go to the landfill, but that I knew would not be recycled by my local system. Instead of throwing it into the trash so it could be compacted into the landfill for our future generations to find and curse us about, I would drop it into the recycle bin anyway. When my friends were present, I would say, “We’ll let god sort it out,” although I knew, that unlike people of different faiths who believe their gods will find the correct category at the end of time, real people at the city dump would have to sort through and discard everything that I didn’t have the fortitude to bag as trash. Instead of decreasing their work, or not-so-subtly suggesting that they set up facilities to recycle a different plastic or glass, I was adding to their workload and ensuring that they had less money for recycling, the only service at the landfill which is positive environmentally.
My friend works at the Edmonton city dump where he is building them a gasifier for those material objects, like mattresses, which cannot be easily composted or torn into their component bits in order to recycle them. Edmonton wants to divert ninety-five percent of its waste stream from the landfill, and projects like the gasifier are a necessary component of that plan. They will eventually have the facilities to make use of the plastic bags I have a hard time throwing into the landfill, or the Styrofoam that is not recycled by my city.
At one time I thought I was doing the city a favour, for instead of making sure everything in the recycle bin was recyclable, I was forcing them to acknowledge what they weren’t doing. I should have known that they are far more aware than I am what their systems miss. I now know better, and I realize that there are excellent staff working on widening the categories, but their work is hampered by people like me, who due to laziness, or an earnest wish to coerce the city into a better recycling program, are actually overburdening the system in place.
If we want a better system it is going to take more of a commitment than merely being lazy about pitching my garbage. We need to foment for actual change, and in the meantime—as I have suggested elsewhere—package your consumer items for the landfill carefully so that even as future generations—poor beyond our imagination because we reduced the earth to a subsistence layer of metals and hydrocarbons—dig up our trash, they will both curse us and be pleased with what they find.
As an addendum to the above, I recently was waiting for a bus and was struck by the mute significance of the sign on the back of the recycling / rubbish bin. I’m not the only one who disregards the rule, and apparently I might not even be the most flagrant in my disregard.