Just returned from the local recycling bins, those conspicuous big blue containers offered by the City of Chicago, and I have an issue. The issue isn’t that the city seems intent on hiding these bins, placing them in such hard to reach and out of sight places that they are virtually impossible to find. They should be everywhere to have any real impact. Compared to, say, neighboring Evanston, for example, Chicago’s program is rather pathetic. If I didn’t know better I’d almost believe they were trying to discourage recycling in Chicago by making it a royal pain in the ass. But first a bit of background.
It’s been a little more than five years of serious recycling in our house. That is, bottles, cans, plastics, metal, paper and cardboard are all regularly hauled off to the local collection bins, courtesy of the City of Chicago. Plastic bags, light plastics, even those annoying plastic seals on most bottles are dutifully recycled. We pack recyclable goods away on vacation, or do our best to patronize businesses and hotels that have some sort of environmentally conscious program. Any given week probably 60-70 percent of what we throw away goes to the recycle bin. The rest is food scraps and various things not capable of being recycled. And I’ll confess that there are days when we just can’t make it to the recycle bin and have to hit the trash instead. It becomes a balance at time between not getting to the recycle bin and coming home to filth and smell or keep the house clean. Clean always wins. It is a rare event indeed, and on those occasions I feel typically feel guilty for days. I take that stewardship stuff seriously, and just for the record, I do believe mankind is at least partially responsible for Global Climate Change.
Here’s my premise, and it’s really rather simple. In fact, it was a lesson I learned way back in High School Chemistry in 1977. See, that’s when I learned to make wine in a simple project. See, you put a moldy grape in a bottle of grape juice then stretch a balloon over the top. The idea wasn’t to get buzzed-although it did that nicely, thank you, while my parents tittered and said “well, isn’t is wonderful he’s learned to make wine.”
The idea was to learn something about closed environments, which is precisely what the planet is; a closed and finite space. See, the bacteria from the moldy grape so love the sweet and pristine environment within that grape juice bottle they consume it madly. So madly that their population explodes. Each of billions upon billions of little grapes. Gorged on sugar, gives off two waste products-carbon dioxide and alcohol. The CO2 fills the balloon and the alcohol replaces the sugar, polluting the environment until a sudden and massive die-off of bacteria occurs, which then settles to the bottom as sediment. You sometimes see this in very old bottles of wine and beer.
The bacteria never has the foresight to regulate its environment. Why? Because it’s flippin’ bacteria! But we are supposed to be smarter than bacteria, right? Although I hear that treating people like mindless bacteria is actually the marketing floor plan for IKEA stores! The bottom line is, we have to get serious about protecting this finite environment, because it is all we’ve got.
Which brings me back to my earlier point. The picture I think is a great indication that the will of the people is far greater than the performance of their elected officials. At this location there are 4, sometimes 5 bins. The interest is so great in recycling here that they could go 8 bins easily. I believe that a fair number of folks are so discouraged that they represent several additional bins worth of goods being reused as opposed to filling up larger and filthier land fills, or being poured into an off shore dump in the Pacific that is already the size of Texas.
As I said earlier, this household recycles almost religiously, but I’ll be honest, sometimes it gets a bit discouraging when getting close to the bins isn’t an option because of mounds of overflowing refuse. Like someone asked me once in a speech some years ago, what can one man do? Well, Jesus was one man. Gandhi was one man. All I’m saying is, we are either serious about the sanctity and maintenance of this planet or we are not. City of Chicago, a little help please, and we’ll do the rest. Look at the picture. The people have spoken, one mound at a time.