Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Moral Tale of Bags and Rabbits—Recycle, Reuse, Refuse


A Moral Tale of Bags and Rabbits—Recycle, Reuse, Refuse
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“Recycle? Are you kidding? I don’t have room to store a bunch of junk. How would I get it to wherever it’s gotta go?  It’s too hard.”

I understood her objections. Where I lived in Washington it was easy. The mega-giant Waste Management distributed recycle bins along with the garbage bins and emptied both on pick-up day. We paid for recycling as part of our garbage bill. I sorted aluminum and metal into one bin, cardboard and paper into another and glass into the third. Since then, WM has simplified the process. Everything recyclable goes into one bin. Their recycle bin is three times the size of the garbage bin. This means three fourths of what we throw away could be recycled and reused. Think about it.
It is different out here in eastern Montana, out here where distance is measured in hours. My friend is right. Recycling is harder here. “How often do you go to Havre,” I asked her.

“At least once every couple weeks,” she answered. “Why?”

I gave her a brochure from Recycle Hi-Line. It lists businesses and organizations in Havre that work to help minimize waste in our landfills. “Why not start with just one item, say, plastics or newspaper. Take them with you whenever you go to Havre. And if you happen to go on the first Saturday of the month, well, you are in luck. You can drop all you’ve collected at the monthly Recycle Drive. There is one this Saturday.”

Recycling or reusing is mostly about paying attention. Take plastic bags, for instance.  When did retailers begin stuffing every purchase into plastic bags? I defy you to drive any public roadway, no matter how isolated, without finding flapping bags twisted onto barbed wired fences or blowing across the prairie like non-biodegradable tumbleweeds.
If you have a strong constitution, take a trip to the landfill. Contact Clay Vincent, Hill County Sanitarian; he’ll take you on tour of our new facility. Be sure to go inside the shop to see which caterpillar tractor has been immobilized by clumps of balled up plastic bags in its tracks.  Yep, the same bags we carry home from the store. And say hello to the gal whose sole never-ending job is to comb the landfill, chasing down runaway plastic.

My solution to the plastic bag problem is to refuse them. I began recycling plastic bags by saving them and taking them back to the retailer. Some I reused as can liners. Even when I had no purchases during the week, the bags seemed to multiply. I suspected the worst. Bundled together in a small space, they did what anything else would do—breed. Worse than rabbits, they multiplied exponentially.
I had to re-think my tactics. For years I have used cloth bags for groceries; that is, when I remembered. I am embarrassed to tell you how long it took me, once I made the decision to refuse plastic, to remember to carry cloth bags into the store. Now, how hard is that! All I had to do was pay attention. Eventually, I automatically assessed my grocery list, determined the number of bags I would need, added two more bags to carry the items I might purchase that are not on my list, and grabbed that number of cloth bags and headed into the grocery store.

Did I say “grocery” store? Modify that, please, to include hardware, plumbing, clothing, library, book store, any and all retailers. Again, pay attention. How often do you go into a store for one item which you can easily carry out in your hand, minus the ubiquitous plastic bag?  
Cloth bags are easy to come by. Out of idle curiosity, I took a break, went to my van and counted my cloth bags. I counted twenty-seven. I get them from all kinds of places. Of those twenty-seven bags, I paid for two, a total cash outlay of two dollars. I can only conclude that my reusable, washable cloth bags, in the privacy of my closed van, just like their evil kin, the plastic bags, just like rabbits, breed litters.

Gazing at my reusable bags, a feeling of righteous saintliness came over me. I know I am taking a stand on this blight on the environment, that my small efforts help decrease the total cost of maintaining the landfill and ultimately, increase its lifespan. What if we all did this one small thing? Think about it. It is an easy place to begin.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

August 30, 2012
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