Congostyle · Funny · Social Innovation

recycling anyone?

I think recycling is fascinating.

I never knew what recycling was until I was in college sometime. I can’t remember when I first heard about it, and then the word had to grow in clarity for me. “RECYCLING”, it wasn’t familiar, and I hadn’t heard it used before…in Congo we just threw everything out.

There weren’t really landfills as such in Congo, just trash piled in lots far enough away from houses that were periodically set on fire. Sometimes people picked through it, and there were those fine beautiful white birds who fed off it, sort of like egrets, that I remember as a kid being so curious about. How could those pure and graceful birds stay so white in all that trash? They looked like ballerina dancers, and I guess…in my little mind made the trash ok, because they were so pretty and lithe and etheral. Although I can’t remember everything so clearly, I remember them, white against the bluish smoke…strange.

I suppose the only recycling there is people actually using what they found in the trash. That was commonplace. Some of it is functionally re-used (clothing, brooms) and some of it is artistically recycled, like the classic cars and objects made out of cans:
So in Delaware, after I moved into my own place and out of the college dorms, you kept paper, plastic, aluminium and different colored glass separate and then took them to recycling centers, which were conveniently located near schools, malls etc. The glass had to be separated into green, brown, clear. I remember being annoyed with the blue glass.

In Haifa…I can’t remember. Did we recycle? I seem to have “suspension of recycling” for that period…

In France, it was interesting. Glass gets all thrown together–all colors, I’m guessing they melt them and bleach them later (?)–in these big green alien-like round contraptions that are located RIGHT underneath people’s windows at street corner. So loud!
Paper and (the rest) got collected in every apartment building. (The rest) was a new concept to me. You basically throw everything that is recyclable (aside from batteries, glass and paper) in one big yellow-lided trash can. There was this–see below–very detailed and complicated poster on the tops of these yellow trash cans listing what you were supposed to put in the bins (paper, aluminium, plastic, objects, certain spray cans, juice cartons) and how, which made recycling pretty philosophical.

1) you weren’t supposed to throw the stuff in bags, it had to be ‘loose trash’
2) no greasy or dirty things
3) you could even throw little home appliances in there (like irons)
4) at what point does the water you use to clean the milk cartons or soap bottles outweigh the ecological value of recycling them? (I never really recycled oil bottles)
When I went to Germany, I was introduced to a whole new level of complexity. Pete and Tina gave me “Le Tour de la Poubelle”. Which was wonderful! They had a little chicken-wired compound that is LOCKED (lest anyone try to steal the precious trash)! Inside the compound, unlocked with a key bestowed on each rightful tenant, you would find what I remember as DOZENS of bins. This website says only three colors but I think they’re wrong. I remember you could recycle home waste (veggies, fruit peels, meet etc, i.e. compost) which they used for energy, you recycled the usual (paper, plastic) and glass was separated by color. But they had this grey bin with weird stuff. AND they recycled batteries there too!

In California, I was kind of excited to see what this “new-age” State had concocted to rival Germany. I thought, rubbing my hands, “this is going to be good!”….

…They don’t recycle.

Well, they do, but it’s professionally done.

Apparently, people were too stupid to successfully educate into correctly separating out the trash, so Californians throw everything out together, which goes to MRF (no joke, it’s ‘Materials Recovery Facility’) where professionals sort out all the trash very efficiently. Apparently since 1989 they’ve reduced their trash by 50% in the State. So now…after years of recycling, I just throw everything in the same trash can, which is so mindless compared with the Paris “thinking” trash experience.

So…this post is pretty pointless. Just an embarassing insight into something I’ve actually thought a lot about. But then again…I used to collect photos of pedestrian signs.

6 thoughts on “recycling anyone?

  1. in haifa you can’t recycle anything except for plastic bottles of all varieties. sometimes i throw rotting fruit or veg out the window of our apartment’s kitchen, but shaun says that that will make our neighbours hate us. i miss composting.

    once on one of our walks around the mountain i recall we came across a full-to-overflowing paper skip in the hassidic neighbourhood. but maybe i dreamt this because i also remember black-trousered boys’ legs sticking out, wriggling, from the mouth of the bin.

  2. Yeah, in Haifa plastic seemed to be the only thing.

    Here in Minnesota we have separate bins for cardboard/paper and cans/plastic/glass.

    So we just keep three trash cans (two are pretty small, for the recycling). It’s pretty convenient, because we have the bins outside our apartment building, so I would almost feel guilty if I didn’t recycle!

  3. Gentle reader, V. is exaggerating somewhat. There are only seven different bins in la Poubelle (though we call it a Mülllager – and note the coolll tripllle ‘l’), and two of those are for the same thing: plastic and other recyclable packaging.

  4. I remember taking HUGE bags of plastic water bottles to the recycling, well I guess it was more like a cage than a bin, on Gollomb. Because I drank so much water and then would wait a long time between visits, I’d amass these huge piles of water bottles either under my desk or in a secret corner; then I’d be like Santa Claus, with huge bags slung over my shoulders. Except instead of bringing toys to children, I was bringing recycling to a cage where the bottles probably got thrown out anyway.

  5. I remember being so impressed with your triple “l” Poubellle that I thought there were so many more than seven bins! The fact you had a key to them probably added to my distortion…but I stand humbly corrected :-)

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