We recycle, and we usually have more recyclable trash to the point where we don’t put the regular bin out weekly. I scrapped our Kerurig coffeemaker (I have a zillion of those refillable K-cup things if anyone needs them) and went back to a regular coffeepot so that we wouldn’t be tempted by plastic K-cup ease any longer. We regularly carry refillable steel water bottles for drinking water. Ben has memorized the numbers on the bottoms of plastic to know what can and can’t be recycled. I buy super thin paper plates and stuff them into those reusable plate holders. It’s a pain to do but it makes me feel virtuous. We recycle plastic bags as much as is possible. We’re hardly perfect but I figure that every little effort helps. When we hit the road, I assumed that we’d be similar consumers and recyclers.
It all started with water. Some communities have really poor water quality. Now, I’m saying this with recognition on my part this is definitely a First World Problem. The water that comes out of taps in America is, for the most part safe. Aside from modern hazards like lead and chemicals that will do you in slowly, good old US of A tap water generally won’t give you something like cholera which will kill you in a hurry. Because we are spoiled we expect our water to not only be clean but look, smell and taste clean. We have been places where the water that comes out of the tap is either tinged orange with iron, full of minerals so that boulders come out of the faucet or emits a powerful rotten egg smell. At one campground the water was so heavily chlorinated that taking a shower made your eyes water and your skin itch. At a restaraunt last night, four lemon chunks weren’t enough to make the water taste less like it was piped from a swimming pool. What does this have to do with recycling, you may ask? We now carry plastic multi-gallon water containers, and yes, individual bottles of water as a part of our regular provisions. On the occasion where we need to use our bottled water, the next issue becomes where to recycle the darn things.
Depending on where you are in this country, recycling programs range from fussy to nonexistent. National Parks have recycling and most state parks do as well. I have observed that if we are in a community where there are lots of bike lanes and trails that there will also be an aggressive recycling program. In one campground in Moab there were seperate bins for paper, plastic and cans along with helpful instructions and pictures in three languages. In a different location we were instructed to bag recyclables separately and given cute blue bags to designate the difference in trash. When the garbage truck came by, the trash and recyclables were all tossed into one big bin and taken away. I hope they really did take the stuff in the blue bags to recycling and it wasn’t just a ruse to make us campers feel green. In many campgrounds there are no bins and you’re left to consider whether you have enough room to cart your stuff for a few hundred miles in hopes the next community will have recycling. We spent a couple nights at a KOA, and I wandered all over looking for a recycle bin. Finally I gave up and threw our cereal box in the regular trash. As we drove out, I spotted a tiny blue bin stuck behind a screen at the entrance, far away from the trash dumpsters.
For all the hype there is about recycling like tags on merchandise that read “Look! I was made out of 35 water bottles,” it’s just not on our collective radar. If recycling isn’t easy, most people won’t do it, and if the method of collection isn’t consistent from place to place, people won’t learn how to recycle properly. It’s likely the KOA hid their recycle bin because they were tired of people putting garbage in it. I guess they figured anyone who worked hard enough to find the bin would know how to prepare their recyclables correctly. Even at home recycling isn’t simple. Some plastics are OK, other plastics are not OK, cans OK but not metal jar lids, on and on.
We’ve watched people throw whole bags of garbage from their moving cars. The amount of litter on our roadways in some areas is pretty shocking. We stopped for the night in a shopping center lot in a nice suburban area. The landscaping and green spaces around the stores were covered in trash. There is no exercise as futile as picking up your dog’s poop when there are dozens of blobs of old poop everywhere around you. Ben walked around this morning and picked up a bag full of trash from the curbs and bushes near our RV. I love him for that; because of him we left our little corner of the Walmart parking lot better than we found it. Sadly, I think that few human beings are invested in keeping up the planet. I get that government regulations can be ponderous and contradictory, but I think we need every last one of them if we’re to avoid fouling the world. I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that we’re capable of maintaining our environment at the most basic level of picking up after ourselves, so how can you have confidence in self-regulation for corporations?
In the meantime, we’ll keep tooling down the road in search of recycling opportunities across America and picking up trash. When we pass, that rattle you hear isn’t a bearing going bad, it’s cans and bottles clanking around below.