About 10 years ago, I got a notice from “the city,” informing me that effective immediately, my family should begin separating and sorting the recyclables from our trash.
The reaction from my teenage sons was loud and whiny, drowned out only by my own cries of protest. (My wife, ever the environmentalist, was on board from the start).
The nerve of those city officials. Asking us to take an extra minute out of our day to put the recyclables in one container, and “plain old trash” in the other.
No longer could I take just one leisurely walk to the curb each week. Now it was two. It was such a sacrifice on my part.
Truth be told, we adjusted. We actually learned to like it. I would often boast that we were the recycling kings of our street. Yes, it was a little more work, but we were helping save the Earth.
Just this week, the city sent another envelope to my home. I don’t hear from my local government that often, so I knew it had to be important. Perhaps it was a property tax refund for the long-awaited repaving of my street that hasn’t happened since LBJ and Lady Bird were in the White House.
Sadly, this was not my lucky day. Instead, the city sent me, and several thousand other citizens, a recycling outreach kit. It included a refrigerator magnet, a sticker for my recycling container, and instructions on how to apply the sticker on the container. (Step 1: “With a damp rag, clean the container.” It just gets more complicated from there.)
In large block letters familiar to second graders everywhere, the sticker screamed, “CURBSIDE RECYCLING IS EASY!” (Well, evidently not, or you would not find it necessary to say that). It goes on to ask, “What can and cannot go in your curbside container? We would like to clear up any confusion.”
According to the city, I may put the following types of items in the blue container with its shiny new sticker: all plastics, mixed paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, and pizza to-go boxes. I know what you’re thinking: How did the city know about my pizza-to-go habit? Maybe they really do watch me from a tiny camera inside the microwave.
Then came those dreaded words: “NOT ACCEPTED.” Large red X’s make it clear that these types of items are not to be mixed with the mixed paper: “Clothing, Glass, Styrofoam, and Food.” At one time, glass and Styrofoam were accepted, so this is good information.
But about those others. Clothing? In the recycling container? The great comedian James Gregory might say, “Well, this means sometime in the past, somebody must have shouted out to her husband, “Honey? It’s recycle day. How ‘bout you go ‘round the house, collect all our old underwear, and them socks of yours with holes in the toes. I’ll bet they can recycle ‘em, and somebody will put ‘em to good use. Just drop ‘em in that big blue thing with the beer cans and Papa John’s boxes.”
And then moments later, the husband hollered back, “Well you know what? We never did finish all that pizza, so let’s recycle that too. Got any other food we can recycle?” Soon, they gathered a bag full of half-eaten tater tots, watermelon rinds, and apple cores. (I’m not making this up: an apple core is the icon that is depicted under the big red “X.”)
Based on the evidence presented, this was the type of behavior that inspired the packet of instructions, magnets and stickers that landed in my mailbox.
Being a curious news reporter, I asked city officials how much it cost to instruct us not to recycle ketchup-stained t-shirts and outdated chip dip that had become a science project.
I was told, “We received a state environmental grant for $28,916 for the installation of permanent materials, mail communications, and outreach activities related to recycling.
The total amount for the service and materials was a little over $39,000. The remainder was paid from funds designated to increase the recycling program, matching the grant.”
Grant money from government agencies is a wonderful thing, and it often goes to worthwhile projects. When announcements are made about grant money being awarded, we often forget that the money usually came from our pockets in the first place, along with the matching funds.
In my particular city, the streets to and from our major medical care facilities are washboard rough. If you didn’t come to the hospital to be treated for broken bones, you might have to before you leave. I don’t know how far $39,000 would go in paving those streets, but it would be a start. If these people would stop trying to recycle last week’s nachos, I would be able to drive without spilling my Coke.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.