Saturday, September 18, 2010

How to Make Recycling More Festive

Do you ever wonder what happens to all your garbage once you’ve watched the nice humanoids on the truck remove it from the curb?

Me, neither. I’ve got better things to think about than the fate of my used sandwich baggies and blood-stained towels.

But then I went to the American Folk Festival. Sure, the singing and dancing were soul-stretching, the food was fabulous, and the children’s area occupied my five-year-old for a whopping ten minutes, but easily the greatest attraction of the whole weekend was the Zero-Sort Recycling Bag of Fail.

You remember the one I’m talking about, if you went to the festival. It was right at the end of the food court. Some engineering genius figured out that you don’t need an entire bin to throw recyclables into; you just need a flimsy aluminum frame from which you can hang a clear plastic bag.

Well, no one told the wind about this wonderful plan, so this contraption spent most of the weekend collapsing like a central African government, only to be hoisted up time after time by a good-hearted volunteer.

I watched for hours. I really wanted to see this sad sack conquer the elements, so as not to give Zero-Sort (also called, “Single Stream,” which connotes either urine or the movie “Ghostbusters,” so I’ll stick with “Zero-Sort”) a bad name.

I’d love to not have to sort my recyclables anymore. For one thing, it would save time and space. For another thing, I would not have to deal with the Recycling Police at my local transfer station.

You see, curbside pickup in my town ends about 30 yards from my house. So every weekend, I dutifully load up my vehicle with refuse and haul it to the transfer station (formerly known as “the dump”), where a fellow in coveralls greets me as though I’m bringing him a radioactive chihuahua with poor bladder control.

I don’t know what it’s like to work at a transfer station, but this dude is way too stressed out.

He scurries over to make sure I’m not throwing any used condoms in with the tin cans, or whatever other shenanigans he thinks I might try and pull.

“What have you got?” he asks.

“Mixed paper,” I answer.

He says “Jesus” in a tone of voice that means he really regrets coming to work on a day when some idiot would try to recycle a bunch of paper.

I stand there for a minute, wondering if he’s going to break down and cry or tell me it’s okay to do what I came to do. Eventually I get permission to proceed, and invariably he spots Something That Should Not Be In There.

“That’s garbage,” he says, pointing to a plastic yogurt container I attempted to add to the “colored plastic containers” bin.

Great. Now he’s caught me trying to make more work for him, and I feel like a complete jerk.

It turns out that only plastics labeled with a number 2 are accepted at this particular Recycling Center of Needless Anxiety. I’ll never be able to show my face there again.

All of this could be avoided if Zero-Sort recycling was the norm. It’s already gaining traction in Bangor and Brewer; the rest of us should jump on board right away.

Because, as it stands now, I have to wait until next year’s Folk Festival to get rid of all my recyclables.

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