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Ashland Green Scene: The powerlessness of recycling

I have been recycling for a very long time. When I was young, I remember putting a red bin full of our plastic, glass, metal, paper, and cardboard out on the curb of my of Decatur, Illinois, home for it to get picked up by a special truck and taken to a special facility where it was magically recycled.

How wondrous was that?

But I will never forget the day when my recycling bubble was burst. It was a sunny, autumn day in Chicago, a place where I lived for over a third of my life. Back then, they had something called the Blue Bag program — you put your recyclables in that bag, and then you put it in with the rest of the garbage in the dumpster. How did this magic work, you wonder?

Well, I was not sure either, but I put my faith in it for a long time. Until the day I witnessed the garbage being picked up. All of those bags from the dumpster were all piled inside the garbage truck, blue bags included, and compressed together into one big mass.

It is interesting how I was able to even continue to put my recyclables in those blue bags for years after that, knowing what I had seen with my own eyes.

Fast forward to today, and I get my recycling ready to take to the Ashland Recycling Center on Water Street. Today was also a sunny, autumn day. I felt good, hopeful, and I had my plastics, scrupulously cleaned out in one bag and my cardboard and paper in another. I walk in to the big lot where the bins are located.

Then I enter the world of confusion and co-mingling. What goes where? What can I actually put in those bins? Which bins? Which magical bins are going to take my trash and turn it into recyclable treasure? The guy in his vest comes over to tell me I am putting my cardboard in the wrong bin. Not that one, he says. That one over there. So I walk over to the next bin and proceed to put everything else, cardboard, paper and plastic into that bin. All of the time I am wondering, is this really being recycled?

I left with my hope deflated. My beautiful autumn day had suddenly turned dim and distant. Why can’t we live in a world without plastic? A world where we don’t make trash?

We are the only species on Earth that creates trash. I don’t want to be a part of that anymore. I want to leave a legacy of stewardship and care of this planet for the generations that are going to inherit it long after I have returned to her bosom. I don’t want to live in the illusion that by recycling, I can absolve myself from the responsibility to stop creating trash at all.

Today is the first day that I begin to really look at what I use and why and to ask myself the tough questions:

Do I really need this?

If so, is there an alternative without packaging?

If I buy something with packaging, am I OK with this going to the landfill because I no longer assume that anything is getting recycled?

Am I being a good steward of the planet with this purchase?

Let’s leave a legacy that we can be proud of for the generations to come after us.

Email Kandy Williams at ashlandsgreenscene@gmail.com.

Recycled materials are processed at Rogue Disposal in White City on Oct. 3, 2017. Mail Tribune File Photo