Monday, October 15, 2007

rude awakening

I was living in Cambridge when the blue recycling bins began to appear--mid-1990s, I think it was. Every Sunday night I'd carry mine down to the basement of my apartment building, along with my trash. Every Monday I'd carry them back up.

I did this in part because it seemed like the right thing to do, but mainly because it's what I was supposed to do. These were the new rules regarding waste, and I followed them.

A couple of years later, Stupid Daddy (Idiot Boyfriend at the time) and I moved to rural Vermont, where there was no curbside pick-up. You hauled your own garbage to the dump, your own stacks of newspaper and piles of plastic.

If you had a reasonable amount of household trash, you could throw it into the Dumpster right at the front, under the watchful eye of a county employee, for a few dollars per bag. (Recycling was complimentary.) But if you had more than that--for example, construction waste from a home renovation project in addition to the usual--you had to drive it right into the landfill and dump it there. They weighed your truck before and after and charged you by the pound.

Because Stupid Daddy had purchased a shack that was barely standing charming little cabin with structural quirks like "no insulation" and "no foundation" for us to live in, he was forever fixing things up around the house, and we often had to go this second route.

Wow. That first time, I stood gaping at the bottom of a stadium-sized crater, my Sorels sinking into the trash beneath me, astonished: there was trash all over the place, layer upon layer, heap upon heap. There were washing machines and banana peels and candy bar wrappers, diapers and tricycles and crushed aluminum cans. (Recycling was optional, and many people just didn't bother.) Black trash bags that hadn't been punctured studded the hillside like boulders. Bulldozers and backhoes razed and collected, shifting and rearranging the man-made, artificial terrain. Even though it was February and the temperature had been below freezing for months, the stench was almost unbearable, even for me.

Everywhere, I mean everywhere, there was trash. Duh--it was a landfill. But it wasn't until then that I realized what that actually meant. It wasn't until I saw and smelled that landfill that I understood what kind of impact I could have--or not--on the land.

The environment started to matter to me after that. I recycled not because I was supposed to but because it meant something. I bought food and cleaning supplies in bulk, with containers I used until they fell apart. Stupid Daddy built a compost bin, and into it we happily threw all our kitchen scraps. Our trips to the dump were a lot less frequent; we just weren't generating that much trash.

Over the years, as we've moved into more urban areas, and regions of the country where environmental responsibility is not a given, we've taken some steps forward and some steps back. We used cloth diapers with Ezra until he was two-and-a-half and with Levi until he was a year; Lilah wouldn't know a cloth diaper if it came up and bit her in the butt. All the produce we eat is organic, and almost all of it is local; on the other hand, we buy drinks in plastic bottles more than I would like, and Stupid Daddy has a nasty Diet Pepsi addiction. Our kitchen scraps go into the disposal now, but we've replaced many of our incandescent bulbs with fluorescent.

We strive and we succeed. We strive and we fail; we're human. But always, I've got the horrifying image of that landfill in my head, pushing me to try my best. I can't shake it; nor would I want to.

(For Blog Action Day.)


jodi said...

Great post. It reminds me that we all just do what we can. Still, it irks me that my mom and sister don't recycle. I just can't think like that.

tiny tin bird said...

damnit deb. this is good. but that's beside the point. the point is that i forgot to write about the environment for blog action day. and now i look like a chump.

Be Inspired Always said...

Wonderful post!

I just came upon your blog a few days ago.