Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 18, 2007

Good feelings

Each day I rinse out recyclable containers, let them dry and put them in plastic bags. I also pick up the newspapers and magazines strewn across our living room floor and stack them in paper bags. When we finish boxes of cereal or macaroni and cheese, I break them down and flatten them out. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth the effort.

But then I tell myself that it's my small way of helping the environment. By recycling, I have reduced our family's weekly trash pickup by at least one barrel.

We Kansans don't have to recycle, but husband Art's home state of Wisconsin has required its citizens to do so for a number of years. Each city in that state provides curbside pick-up service. People can be fined if they throw away something that should have been recycled.

Art's Mom Donna and his brother Tommy are avid recyclers, almost honing their routine to an art form. Both are voracious readers and they enjoy newspapers in particular. Tommy even reads a Chicago paper that a neighbor gives him. Then, once a day, he visits Donna where he collects the local paper she has finished and he shares the ones he has perused. Once they have both absorbed their quota of news from these multiple sources, Tommy carefully puts them in brown paper bags in Donna's garage.

For some time, whenever Art was visiting his mother, he noticed each bag had a small slip of paper with a string of summations much as might be generated while keeping score in a card game, except for one difference - there was only one column. Eventually Art thought to ask Tommy about the slips and discovered his brother carefully tallies the number of newspaper sections he puts in each grocery bag. Why? He just likes to keep track of how many they recycle.

Although they aren't required to, they even take the labels off cans and bottles before putting them in the recyclables. They subject cans to additional attention, cutting both the tops and bottoms out. Then Tommy stomps them flat in the garage before putting them in the recyclables container.

Every Monday morning between 6 and 7 a.m., two trucks make their way down Donna's street. One picks up the trash while the other collects the recyclables.

Perhaps many of us might feel it was too much work to do as they do, but they were already familiar with having to make do and collecting certain wastes. They both remember World War II when such things were done not to be earth-friendly, but because the recyclables were needed for the war effort.

But now I have the recycling habit, too. Once every few weeks, I load the van with paper grocery bags filled with newspapers, magazines and cardboard and several plastic kitchen bags stuffed with glass, aluminum and tin cans, plastic milk jugs and soda bottles. Then I drive to Howie's Recycling in Manhattan.

The place smells vaguely of beer and the floors are a bit sticky. But after unloading the recyclables and throwing them into the proper containers, I'm satisfied. I feel like I'm doing the right thing and, in the process, clearing out a big space in our garage where I store the stuff.

Of course, I don't really gain any space because it will soon be used for the next batch. But the good feelings linger.

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