For some ungodly reason, I decided to head to the recycling center today. Okay, in all seriousness, I do save aluminum cans, as well as plastic and glass bottles, on the basic principle that paying a recycling fee at the grocery store and then paying for trash service does not really make me feel like handing that extra money over to the trash guys (who I have seen picking through people’s recycling bins for things they can take themselves to make some extra cash). In the three years I have been doing this, today was my third trip; so you see I pile bags of recyclable goods for long periods of time just to prove my point. Today, my experience was no different than the rest.
Every time I go there, I expect to walk into an image of pristine and efficient trash handling. Recycling and “going green” is supposed to be this crystal clear process of making the world a more beautiful place. I imagine white buildings with conveyer belts; and employees in clean, white uniforms with smiles from ear to ear. “Thank you for doing right by your planet,” they would say as I hand over my recyclables, all-the-while basking in the glow of the sun with the beautiful green trees and fields surrounding the plant. No matter how many times I go and see the exact opposite of this, I always have this naive glimmer of hope that this is what awaits me as I pull into the lot and smell the stench of a garbage dump.
In reality, though, a recycling plant is nothing more than just that. It is a dirty, disgusting, filthy, and disorganized garbage dump. It smells like trash for at least a square mile around it; in fact, today it was so overpowering that I started to gag. And no matter how much I search for one in the middle of rolling meadows, they are always centered in the middle of the most dangerous industrial sections of the city. Today, I saw someone peddling drugs down the street.
Invariably, there is trash strewn about everywhere. The first time I went to the recycling center, I had a hard time finding a section on the ground that was not covered in broken glass. You have to wonder how they can offer money for trash items that are then going to sit outside on the ground for who knows how long, but they do.
The employees are all rude, impatient, and wearing pants with holes in the back that show through to their tight-y white-ys. Today, the employee helping me had the holes in his pants, but wore nothing else underneath. Horrified, disgusted, I moved through the line and vowed to never return.
It isn’t only the conditions of the trash dump pegged as good for the environment, though, that make my trip quite the experience it always is. Really, what makes it such an escapade are the people that are there to get some money for their wares. It goes without saying that the majority of the people are there to cash in on a little bit of extra money. In certain areas of the industrial district, you can drive around and see the vast number of recycling centers that claim they pay the highest rate. But beyond those that are simply there to cash in on some extra bucks, there are also the typical cast of characters standing in line.
There’s always that one guy who stands in line giving out advise to the other trash-bringers. Last time I was told by that guy to leave the caps on my bottles. Today, it was a different that guy, but his advise was similar: don’t dump out the last drops of soda or water because that adds weight. I imagine these are the trash collectors that I see digging in people’s recycling bins, or the random guys you see digging in the public garbage receptacles for an occasional can. Why else would they know so much if they didn’t spend a good deal of their time around waste?
And then there are those people that are recycling things other than cans and bottles. Today’s trip to the recycling center was a doozy. There was a woman turning in a refrigerator, which was leaking freon everywhere. There was a kid that looked to be about fifteen years old with a large bag full of nails. At one point while standing in line, someone even hit me with their aluminum beach chairs. None of this topped off the pick-up truck full of guys that pulled up as I was leaving, though; the back of their truck loaded with at least thirty shiny, new (quite obviously stolen) rims.
Unless you are hard up for money, a lot of the time it really does not seem to be worth it to take a trip to the recycling center. Of course, in trying economic times, most would argue that it is. You have to stop and ask, though, how good such a place really can be for the environment and the community at large. It emits natural and chemical pollution. It has poor organization policies that end up causing a significant degree of waste. And it encourages various forms of crime by paying for any and all bits of metal, plastic, or glass that make their way in the door. No questions asked, give us your wares. Of course, I say this now and will commit to just throwing away my recycling the way a lot of other upstanding citizens do; but then I’ll see the trash men outside picking through the garbage, or the CRV tax will go up again. I’ll get mad and then nine months from now, I am sure I will be getting another bit of advise from that guy in line who seems to be there all the time.