Thursday, 4 March 2010

I Recycle, Therefore I Am

These three, stackable, white plastic trays are our recycling corner. They are the only real evidence we have of our – or, at least, my – attempts to live a more eco lifestyle. In today’s western world, in the average household to recycle is to be all you can be to the environmental movement. I recycle, therefore I am.

The boxes sit, inert, on top of our small grey freezer in the kitchen corner, tucked away behind the door, hidden and yet visible for all to see. They are solid and they are stable, much like we expect our waste and our recycling collection services to be. They were bought from Argos, a store that is the epitome of warehouse catalogue shopping, a place I had never set foot in until I met and moved in with Bron. Cheap and cheerful, plastic central. No offence, Bron.

In our old home, we dreamed of these boxes. Of somewhere neat and tidy to put our bottles, paper, tin cans, and plastic trays. To keep this pile of rubbish, of unwanted material, out of sight and out of mind instead of thrown on the floor at the side of the sofa, waiting to be tripped over, and waiting to be sorted and tidied into rain-soaked plastic bags outside the back door. These boxes are our recycling salvation and I look upon them with pride.

Plastic bottles, lids, and odd bits and pieces are unceremoniously added to the top box on a daily basis, along with tin cans and, this week at least, foil trays emptied of Felix cat food. Carefully lifted down on a Tuesday evening, it is emptied into a large purple, plastic bag by Bron’s strong hands. The box returns, empty, to its lofty heights just below the kitchen ceiling, while the purple bag takes up its place on the front lawn, alongside a clear bag of paper and card, a green one of bottles, and the obligatory black bin bag. It’s always a surprise to see how few of our neighbours produce as many full and coloured bags as we do. Are they failing in their environmental duty? Can they just not be bothered to recycle? Or perhaps we are the failures. What if these neighbours, somehow, manage to produce less waste than us?

This is where my doubts kick in. How much of what I’m sending off with the recycling men actually gets recycled? The glass, the paper, the plastic, does it actually get to become something new, or is it going to wind up on the side of the road in a suburb of India? ‘Check with your local authority,’ packaging tells us now; and ‘All plastic is recyclable,’ yell the industry execs, but I can’t help but wonder how much of it really is in practical terms.

And so these three, stackable, white plastic trays link me to the products I put in them, to the food industry, the beauty industry, to consumer society. They link me to Bron, to the dustbin men, to the Council, to the rest of the country and the factories where my plastic goes to be sorted out, melted down, and made into new things.

They are the central causeway; they are the eye of the storm.

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