Breaking Bad... Habits.
When I was in elementary school, living in Bakersfield California, my favorite chore was collecting all the aluminum cans my family consumed. At the age of 9 or 10, aluminum held an equivalent value to gold. Literally. I could turn these cans in for $.35 a piece at this giant recycling robot, which was my version of a slot machine. I was bringing roughly 100 cans a month. That's not chump change for someone with a sweet tooth like mine.
This chore was adored for it's payoff, and when it ceased so did my care. My family and I moved to Texas as I entered middle school and recycling wasn't as accessible in our new state. We had to pay monthly to have it picked up curbside,- therefore we didn't. There weren't any convenient drop offs and my slot machines were nowhere to be found. So we just stopped all together as a household. All 6 of members of my family disregarded the active thought about our waste or consumption. I began to see this disregard in other areas too, besides recycling.
We never ate leftovers. We were more likely to throw old items away rather than donate. We had to buy 2 extra large sidewalk trash cans for the amount of household trash we produced. Overflowing trash cans were a norm.
When I moved out and started college, I took a lot of these habits with me. As an independent and frankly very poor adult, I quickly experienced the negative impacts these habits were producing. Avoiding leftovers was too costly. I had no excuse to not donate to Goodwill, as I was a frequent patron. I was producing less trash, and the recyclables I did produce- I almost always kept to serve as makeshift Tupperware.
I wish I could say I gained a green conscience on my own, from research and empathy for our planet, but in reality it was a deep financial struggle that forced me into it. Yet, I still used my financial situation as a crutch avoid fully committing to the responsibility of being more aware of my consumption.
Thinking about how my actions as a small little person on this planet affected everyone? Damn. It was too heavy.
So I didn't commit for another 3-4 years. Even though I was working with environmental political groups, fighting for green policy changes, and provoking debates about climate change with peers, my eco-conscience was just a fraud. Actually giving a shit enough to change my lifestyle required too much effort on my "already" burdened life by financial restrictions...
So when I made the choice in 2017 to take a more minimalist approach to everything- this was the second item I confronted with myself with. I had to shatter the facade. I had been telling myself that I was environmentally conscious and doing something about it. Fact was, I wasn't. Sure, I was posting an instagram picture of me at a greenpeace rally, but what was I actually doing? Truly, unless there was a public recyclable container next to me, not a damn thing. In all honesty, getting to this point was a fairly shameful experience. Owning up to the fact that I promoted nationally regulated carbon emissions but didn't own a recycling bin, or that I hit a 3 month streak at veganism just to be broken by a crispy chick fil a nugget, felt defeating. Initially, I let this shrink me by thinking that all I could be was a half-hearted human but instead I took the confrontation as an opportunity to restore integrity in my beliefs. So, I made a new commitment: to be the version of me I was putting out into the world. The one who actually gives a shit.
Rome wasn't built in one day, and my new habit wouldn't be either. So I started with a small bin for my 3 person apartment to see if it was something we would even use. Quickly, the bin became insufficient and we added additional boxes. Within the first week of recycling, I immediately became present to the difference it was making in my trash. I recorded that about 85% of what we were throwing away was recyclable. This realization led to an immediate sense of guilt and let me show you why.
The average american produces 4.4 pounds of trash a day. That’s about the same weight as a can of beans. I have been alive for 9,010 days. I’ve been consciously recycling within the last 9 months, so let us subtract 270 days.
So, I’ve been tossing recyclables into my trash bin for about 8740 days. If I estimate that 85% of my trash is recyclable, that means I have thrown away 32,687.6 lbs of recyclable materials into my trash can and sending them directly to a landfill.
Thirty two thousand six hundred and eighty seven point six pounds of materials to the dump.
Seeing that number on paper was shocking, and it’s only MY ESTIMATE, it’s not even breaking it down to every household or individual.
Seeing that number on paper was all I needed to get present to it’s importance real fast. I mean genuinely important. Recycling has been a social trends for most of my life but I never actually respected it’s function. Recycling is important. Recycling is becoming as routine as shampooing but I find myself constantly running into hurdles because of the environment around me. I love Houston but it’s recycling efforts are shit. Actually, they’re worse than shit because at least that’s compostable.
The process and accessibility of this in the United States as a whole needs to be greatly expanded. Recycling has been a social factor for years now, but it does little good in applying true pressure to individuals when we have scattered accessibility to it state by state. When a state like California (population of 39.54 million) encourages its’ citizens to recycle, and a state like Texas (28.3 million) doesn’t even provide bins at no cost to folks, we’re essentially cancelling our national efforts out. How can we actually make progress on this when there is no consistency in emphasizing its importance?
I hear people make up excuses for it a lot, like “my contribution to recycling doesn’t matter”, “it all ends up in a dump anyway”, and I confidently tell them they’re wrong. After seeing my personal number of 32K+ pounds, I did more research into how recycling works in the United States. Current procedures absolutely have their pitfalls, and they will until we understand the importance as a collective. I encourage you to do some research and make the choice for yourself to recycle consciously. Genuinely being invested in this habit took time for me but it greatly improved my standard of living and my authenticity in demanding action on environmental issues. I learned that by giving a little bit more of a fuck, you can make a world of difference.