Life or Something Like It: Recycling effort brings satisfaction

-A A +A

Column by Suzanne Darland

I admit it. I’m one of those tree huggers who recycles. You know, the ones who chirp they reuse junk mail envelopes to write their grocery lists on so they can tuck their coupons inside.

Well, I don’t exactly do that, but I often feel I’m on a mission to keep things out of the landfill.

Take office paper, for instance. If one side has printing on it, there are 93.5 perfectly good square inches of space on the other side that can be used for handouts, schedules, lists of classes and the like.

I have three stacks of half-used paper at the ready in a cabinet over my desk. One is half sheets for scratch paper and list making. Another is for personal printing only, maybe because I pulled an outdated flier off a bulletin board and it has push pin holes in it. Or the paper is thin and the printing on the other side is faintly visible.

A third pile is for general use – it’s OK for others to get a missive from me printed on it. In my class, if I give a handout printed on recycled paper, students automatically turn it over to see what random information is on the other side. Then they turn the paper back over and we’re ready to discuss.

And there’s a file folder of colored paper too for more eye-catching purposes. And cardstock, signs and posters that can bring their heft to another use. One of my like-minded colleagues who teaches theater was musing aloud about needing some heavier paper to tag the costumes in her office. I sent her a stack of outdated posters through campus mail. She was thrilled.

At home it’s the same. There’s a basket by the phone with all sizes of paper that came my way in the form of mail or newspaper inserts.

Then after both sides are written on, the paper can go in the recycle bin. Along with glass jars, yogurt cups, cereal boxes, newspapers and plastic water bottles. I’ve even been known to collect bottles or cans from a meeting if there’s no recycling bin handy at the venue. And maybe there’s a second or third life for the jar (to transport soup to work) or newspaper (to use for packing) before it ends up in the tub. “Disposable” plastic spoons, forks and cups? There’s a lot of life left in them before they are consigned to the bin.

We gladly pay the $2.50 extra a month it costs for our trash company to pick up our bin of single-stream recyclables – no need to separate. And it’s a good thing my husband brought home a second tub – some weeks both are on the curb.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans produced about 251 million tons of trash in 2012. But they recycled and composted almost 87 million tons of this material, more than 34 percent. That’s way up from less than 10 percent in 1980. So I’m not alone in this obsession.

Neither are those in other countries. When we were in Malaysia last summer on a mission trip, we were walking through a neighborhood one day when our paths crossed a garbage truck’s. There was a driver and two “tippers” who dumped the contents of garbage cans into the back of the truck. A fourth man sat in the back and opened each plastic bag to retrieve the cans and plastic bottles residents had thrown away.

We also collect vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells to throw in the compost pile so they don’t go in the garbage. I’ve seen elegant pots with lids for this purpose on the counter. Mine’s appropriately a recycled butter tub or plastic ice cream bucket.

What does all this do? Maybe it’s a lot of work for little obvious reward. But I feel better about being down to one bag of trash a week, just doing our part for the environment.

And the garden gets a nice side dressing of free loamy, nutrient-dense fertilizer.

Suzanne Darland teaches journalism classes and is director of the faculty advising center at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College.