You are what you recycle

Trying to come up with a catchy phrase for this post. I remembered a few that echoed in my head:

“You are what you eat.”

“Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are.”

And I came up with this one:

“Show me what you recycle and I’ll tell you what you eat and who you are and I can probably take a pretty good guess at what kind of friends you have.”

But I decided to narrow my focus in honor of Earth Day. You are what you recycle. I have proof positive of that. I recently took a walk through my neighborhood early on a Wednesday morning. A morning kind of like this morning.

Now I will admit that I am naturally the nosy type. But I try not to pick through the trash cans or recycle bins. I did, however, cast a casual glance in each one of those recycling bins as I was walking my dog. I made a couple of observations about some of my neighbors.

Not everyone recycles.

This one still shocks me. I recycled back in my apartment-living days when I had to separate the green glass from the brown and clear glass. You could recycle aluminum cans but not steel cans. And you could recycle some kinds of plastic. When I moved to an apartment building that didn’t have those handy bins out in the parking lot, I collected a grocery bag of recyclables and drove to a recycling station.

My life has changed since then. I have a husband, a son, 2 cats, and a dog. We live in suburbia. We produce our fair share of consumer waste. But we recycle even more. They make it so easy. We place a bin at our curb every Wednesday morning. Just put everything in one bin. Paper, plastic, metal, glass. In case you haven’t heard of it, the city of Raleigh has adopted a cool technology called single stream recycling. It automatically sorts what we used to have to do manually.

So why doesn’t everybody recycle? Beats me. It’s easier and you produce less trash (which equates to less trips to empty the kitchen garbage).

We are not getting healthier as a nation.

While the new products that are popping up in the grocery stores would lead us to believe that more and more people are making healthy choices, this may not be the case. I live in a pretty diverse community in terms of culture, ethnicity, income. You’ll also find “natives” as well as transplants – mostly from the Northeast. Some retirees and plenty of families. So while my quick walk through the community is a small sampling of America’s tastes, it might be somewhat representative.

The most typical things I saw in the recycling bins were drink bottles. Soda. Diet Soda. Frozen pizza. Sugar cereals. Frozen foods. Laundry detergent. One of my favorites was a home recycling both Diet Coke and Apple Jacks. If only they could see the irony. Other common products: Huggies, Lucky Charms, Gogurt, Red Baron, Totino’s.

You are what you recycle.

My next door neighbor, who was sadly widowed last July, admits he doesn’t know how to cook. He tried to cook an egg one time and burned the pan so he threw it away. He says he makes a mean peanut butter & jelly. Some weeks, his recycling bin doesn’t make it to the curb. I’m assuming he doesn’t have enough to fill it. Other weeks, I’ll see it overflowing with Marie Callendar boxes. I do make him meals from time to time and make sure I bring over cookies on every holiday.

Another neighbor down the street doesn’t put out a bin. He puts out two large plastic garbage cans. Each one is full to the top. With Budweiser beer cans. I’d like to assume that it’s a stash he holds on to until the cans are full. If I start seeing that every week, I might worry.

On the next recycling day, take a walk around your neighborhood. Don’t judge. Just casually look. See what your recycling bin says about you.

And to be fair, yes, you can see my recycling bin:

recycling day

Look, but don't judge

Wall Street Journal, Organic Milk, Eggland’s Best, San Pellgrino Lemon Soda, Constructive Things catalog, Annie’s Bunny Grahams, Jameson’s Whiskey, Chateau St. Jean Chardonnay

Everything in moderation, right?


Love your planet and take care of it!

  • 1918

    I wonder the same thing when I see zero recycling. They can't make it any easier. I am a lazy recycler, so one-stream is probably the only way I was ever going to get on the bandwagon.

    We have 3 people in my house, 2 adults and a toddler, and we generally have 1 bad or trash and a full wheel-away bin of recycling. The milk jugs, soda bottles and cereal boxes always took up too much room in the trash in the old days. I say thank you for simple, human friendly recycling programs like we have around here.

  • FadraN

    I have no idea how we compare with other cities but they do make it pretty easy here. I even bought a wheelie thing from the city so I don't even have to pick my bin up. Perfect for a lazy recycler!

  • Megan (Best of Fates)

    Ooh, single stream recycling? That sounds like a dream come true – such a time saver!

  • 1918

    We didn't even have to buy our wheelie thing, Holly Springs gave them out to all the residents. The only problem is that there's some weeks it's not big enough. It's about 75% of the size of our trash one. I wish I could switch them.

  • Salt

    Mmmm Jameson.

    My apartment complex does not recycle. I'm very shocked by this. People in my building are definitely separating their trash downstairs, but in the end it all gets lumped together. It's maddening. I'm thinking what I might do is clean out part of our storage locker to keep bins in so I don't have to have them in our apartment.

  • Suzanne

    Great post. I also love peeking into my neighbor's recycle bins when I'm out walking the baby. Ours is usually a healthy combination of milk jugs, wine bottles and junk mail. :)

  • adventuroo

    I can't believe that people don't recycle either!

    I guess I always assumed single stream recycling (never knew the term- thx!) was what all cities did. We lived in Scottsdale, AZ for 5 years and always had a giant bin (like Raleigh's trash bins) that we sat on the road every week.

    I hear we may be getting bigger bins too here and I'm excited! We fill up the small one pretty quickly.

  • FadraN

    You should see a video of how they do it. It's genius, yet so simple.

  • FadraN

    Spoken like a true mom of a toddler :)

  • FadraN

    I know Durham is getting the big trash can size bins for collection every 2 weeks. Hubs says the same thing is coming to Raleigh. As it is, we have 2 recycling bins we have to put out every week.