There was a time where I never would have been accused of being an environmentalist. In fact, I don’t think anyone thinks of me in that way at all, least of all me. And I don’t blame them. Back in the day I would unthinkingly contribute to the expansion of the landfill via my friendly neighborhood trash hauler, blissfully unaware each week that my little bit of throw-away ate up more space with stuff like plastic that didn’t immediately decompose, but seemed to have a half-life longer than that of the nuclear radiation still clinging to Chernobyl.
The lessons of public service messages from my youth when Earth Day became an annual observation had left an impression on my adult years. I learned not to throw bags of trash from whatever car I was driving, lest it fall at the feet of Iron Eyes Cody as he stood in full tribal regalia along the highway, a tear rolling down his face as he silently lamented what terrible stewards of the planet we had become as we struggled to “Keep America Beautiful.” (Seriously, that television spot said a lot to me in the ’70s and in its occasional revivals. And yes, I am aware that Cody was not a Native American, but the image he presented helped make the piece work). In fact, about the only thing I did toss from a moving vehicle was a spent can of pop that, thanks to summertime, a wasp decided to make its home.
To be truthful, for a long time I hadn’t given much thought to recycling, one of the more easily accomplished of individual tasks in keeping our communities clean, maintaining the viability of dump sites and re-purposing material from what we used to call junk to something useful. Living with some serious (diet) pop drinkers took me to the conclusion that we were giving up a lot of aluminum to the trash pickup when we had recycling bins close by where cans could be hauled away to centers that turned the refuse into more aluminum for more pop cans and other products. Yes, I realize pop (or soda, if you prefer) has become the new tobacco in the eyes of the medical community, but there are still folks who can quaff the stuff in moderation without the risk of sudden diabetes or dementia, and therefore, still provide a market for soft drink makers. Don’t agree? Fine. Call me irresponsible.
Additionally, the idea of some financial gain from taking cans or other acceptable items to a recycling center, such as Gallipolis’ L&L Scrap Metals Recycling Inc., is an attractive proposition. A gamble on some days depending on the market value of aluminum, you at least walk away with something in your pocket. (A word to the wise: make it easy on the guys handling your drop-offs and separate tin containers used in canned goods from the aluminum preferred for pop). Plastics and cardboard are something else again, but are accepted at recycle bins. While the distance to the bins may discourage some from making use of them, that doesn’t appear to be the case where I live — ours is usually jammed to the top by the end of the week.
And you never would have expected that recycling can be good for your health. I’m now on my second can crusher and my twice-a-week orgy of squashing empties has to be a boon for my upper body strength, if nothing else, as the crushing mechanism is manipulated. (Now if it would only work on that waistline). At least I like to think the labor that goes with this recycle business is a positive. The last trip to L&L left myself and Scott Efaw, who graciously helped me, exhausted more from picking up bags that had fallen off the bed of the truck we used while enroute than from loading and unloading them. Wait — was that a sort-of Native American we saw standing along the roadside?
More than a decade ago, the entertainers Penn & Teller had a cable TV show — whose title I can’t repeat here — which debunked current trends and campaigns, including recycling, which they found ineffective and actually a contributor to the world waste problem. In other words, there was so much recycled material produced that industry and society couldn’t use, so it all ended up back on the trash pile. I tend not to agree with that analysis and hope that the technology has improved since that show aired, upgraded to the point that people shouldn’t allow themselves to be deterred from doing their own recycling and taking advantage of programs that offer the service. Or the free dump days offered at the landfill or by local health departments. For it is a worthwhile endeavor and leaves you with a feeling you’re contributing something to the longevity of this place called Earth, otherwise known as home.
Oh, and yeah, one more thing since we were on the topic of light refreshment. When I first came to Ohio some four decades ago, one of the first words I had to drop from my everyday vocabulary was “soda” when referring to a Pepsi, Mr. Pibb or other vending machine beverage. It was “pop.” People honestly had no idea what I meant by “soda,” unless it was the baking kind for the care and well-being of what was in their refrigerator. There were many other language and cultural adjustments to be made in the succeeding years, and more remain, but it’s been fun learning all the same.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.