Serious Recycling


Recycling started in Berkeley, California in 1973. It’s serious business there. If ever you put plastic bottle in the trash by mistake you’ll get an earful. The townspeople would burn you at the stake if they could. They would stone you to death. Failing to recycle in Berkeley is like watching Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” come to life. If you haven’t read that story, go read it now. It’s short. I’m not joking. Then come back and read this.

What’d you think? It’s good right??… okay, back to this:

I made a trash/recycling mistake once. It happened when I first moved to Berkeley from Texas (take a step back and imagine that transition]. I got yelled at for it. I don’t actually mean “yelled at” because people in California don’t yell. They bitch. They passive aggressively pop their neck-veins and calmly tell you, eyes-rolled-back, tongue half out, how stupid you are. They take this treatment very seriously, like they are doing you and their city a social service. Honestly, they feel like in treating you like a moron they are doing volunteer work: a passive aggressive service to their city.

Now, I am an avid recycler. I recycle and reuse and re-reuse. I wash all plastic Ziploc bags and use them until they get holes. I haven’t bought Tupperware in years. I just use leftover sour cream containers. How can you have enough Tupperware just out of sour cream containers? You can if you love sour cream as much as I do.

I am not the enemy!

My fatal mistake: mistaking the garbage bin for the recycling bin one afternoon. I threw out the crusts of my peanut butter and honey sandwich into the recycling bin. I didn’t do so out of ignorance. I didn’t do so out of malice. I seriously thought it was a trash can. In Texas (bless its soul) recycling bins are blue or green. The state of Texas makes it VERY clear. Stuff is color-coordinated. That’s because Texans hate recycling. They hate the idea of having to think of the environment at all. Such a bummer, they say. So making everything color-coded makes waste disposal into kind of game, like pin the tail on the donkey but you are not blindfolded and the donkey is a recycling bin and the tail is a plastic or glass bottle. Sure, that doesn’t stop people from misusing the dumpster for the recycle bin, but still, color-coding is a must.

In the city of Berkeley dumpsters, recycling, and composting bins are black, brown, green, or blue, all interchangeable, all the time. My mistake occurred outside the public library, where a dark brown recycle bin stood idly. In went my crust.

As soon as my residues fell to the bottom of the dumpster, a man popped out, as if the earth had just birthed this creature. He was a silly looking man who frantically tapped me on the shoulder. He was silly looking because he wore a navy tuxedo vest over a light blue, tight-fitted Aerosmith t-shirt. Immediate thoughts: (1) Who still thinks Aerosmith is t-shirt worthy to wear in public (2) If you are wearing it ironically then what’s the irony? (3) I don’t really have to deconstruct the problem with the tuxedo vest right?

“Excuse me Miss, this is not a garbage can.  Did you seriously just throw in garbage?” he asked. I emphasize seriously because he did. His seriously is the kind of seriously I would use if someone punched me in the boob or threw an entire can of soda out of their car while driving on the highway at seventy-miles per hour, hitting the car behind them. Also, I hate it when men call me “Miss”. I get kinda crazy.

I wanted to tell him: Bitch, you don’t know me. Back your shit up and don’t touch me ever.

Instead I said: “Oh, sorry had no idea this was the recycling. It’s brown not green or blue.”

At which point he retorted with: “Why does the color of the trash bin matter? Ya, sure just don’t do it next time.”

I wanted to say: Did you just make this about race somehow? Are you the fucking garbage police?

Instead I said: “Ok.”

I learned quickly. Always read the labels on the waste bins. I spent so much time reading those labels. Other times, when the labels aren’t clear, I open the bins to see what each one contains. When in Rome I guess….