Scavenger

I am recycling things. I’m not talking about washing out yoghurt containers or running around town and pick out aluminum cans from public trash bins. But in a way, if I was as consequential as I would like to, someday I might even do that. Watch me, Springfield.

I grew up in a country where recycling was mandatory. Not out of a governmental consciousness for the enviroment (although they claimed so) but due to economical reasons. The German Democratic Republic (most people know it as East Germany) had an economical system in place wich was bound to be insufficient. Mostly because of corruption and misgovernment but also due to lack of currencies and ressources. But whatever the reason was, the recycling system was almost perfect compared to todays recycling efforts of, say, United Green Germany or the United States of A.

We even recycled food scraps back then. For a time, on every street corner there where bins called “Speckitonne” wich I would roughly translate as Fatty-Bin. Those bins would be emptied out every week and what you did was you threw your food waste in there and then a truck took it to the big cooperative pig farms and there they fed the contents to the pigs. Sounds disgusting? Well, the pigs where probably fed a more healthy diet with that than the hormone-infused meat-packs of nowadays. And the only disgusting part of it then was that sometimes those bins tend to smell a bit toward the end of their weekly cycle. But I still love the idea, despite the occasional reek: what a perfect way to recycle food. One of the reasons why this probably wouldn’t work today might be sanitary restrictions regarding livestock husbandry, although pigs are omnivore and can stand pretty much anything they got into their stomachs. But still. What a nice idea that was. No more food waste.

Another thing we were obliged to do was as kids to go around the neighborhood twice or trice a year with a hand cart and collect old glass bottles and newspapers from elderly people who where not able to get rid of that stuff recycle-wise by themselves. Now you might think: Thats nice, but, obligatory?! But here’s the knack: when we delivered that stuff to the recycling center, we got paid. And not too bad, either! Sometimes we where forced to donating that money to charity (oh, sh*t, socialism again), but we were also free to go around the neighborhood on our own accounts and keep the money to ourselves. Yes, capitalism, sort of. I made quite some money with that and I felt morally great because we donated like hell to honorable causes (there where even donation-races between schools). What a nice idea, too. The Lemon-stand of the socialist world. Mostly disappeared nowadays, even in Germany; in the U.S. only the Boy/Girl Scouts keep up something similar with their collection drives of aluminum cans.

I grew up with a father who had accustomed himself to a great extend to those recycling regulations because of, I would guess, beeing part of the citizenry but also because of him growing up in the years shortly after WWII. Austerity must have been the dominating condition for most of his childhood/teenage years. So he valued naturally every reusable/recyclable item and taught us kids to do so either. No matter what: items, services or utilities. Everyhing had to be considered a recyclable ressource or be handled with frugal conduct. Collect bottle caps and corks. Don’t throw away old aluminum foil. Switch of the light when you leave a room. Don’t run the water while you brush your teeth. Turn off the shower while soaping yourself. Clear your plate. Put on an additional sweater if you’re cold. Use writing paper on both sides. Don’t put the newspaper in the trash. And so on.

He collected almost everything, but not everything. A broken piece of scrap plastic was a broken piece of plastic and got into the trash, but most pure materials would be recycled (Yoghurt containers didn’t exist in our consumer environment back then. Heck, Yoghurt didn’t). Yes, sometimes this bordered on messiness of some kind. He still has his basement full of stuff he’ll never use anymore, so I guess my siblings and I will have to take care of that someday. We’ll probably take it to the recycling center. You can find them nowadays (again) in every district in Germany.

Antother example of my influences: In the year 2000 I was responsible for the graphic design for the exhibitions of several West African countries for the World Expo in Hannover, Germany. Through my research I learned a lot about those countries. On of those countries was Benin. The inhabitants of Benin are quite remarkable: although one of the poorest countries in West Africa they have found a way to support most of their basic material needs through recycling: they are making water buckets out of old car tires, build houses out of aluminum cans, built toys and kitchen utensils out of scrap metal and even make art out of it, and appear altogether happy to have developed a whole culture around the idea of recycling. They even import trash from neighboring countries and recycle that. This is quite a remarkable achievment, especially when you have a closer look at those neighboring countries, wich do not nearly so well despite the geographical proximity and similar circumstances.

When I buy some new furniture or a new piece of equipment or a new tool there are often packages of screws and additional material for eventualities of the future user. I store away every single piece of that. I surely will find a secondary use for those. Before I have to throw away something I dismantel it, free it of every screw and reusable item I can’t find before I put the not recyclable components of it (- most is) in the trash. For most of the usual household items this doesn’t take much time. What took me much time though was to find an ordinary battery recycler here in the Springfield/IL area. All of the usual recycling companies refuse to take batteries. This shows how costly it is to recycle batteries. But before you throw them happily in the trash: one AAA-battery on the usual landfill will poisen thousands of gallons of groundwater. A similar pollution is caused to the air if it is burned. This is serious. Don’t throw them in the trash. Find someone who takes it and then pressure you local government to introduce mandatory battery recycling in your district for those companies who sell them and make a profit out it in the first place. That might drive up the prices for batteries a little, but you see, if you want to save money, you use rechargeables anyway.

I’m not on a mission here. But I truly believe that one way out of the dependencies on ressources is recycling. And its also about saving a lot of money. If you are irritated about fuel prices think twice why they are so high. Because demand is so high. Car driving contributes to the lions share of the demand, but: A lot of oil goes into the production of plastic materials (soda bottles and shopping bags for instance but also kids toys). It irritates me to unspeakable amounts when I see the mountains of one-time-used plastic crap piling up on the front lawn of desperate garage-sales. If you love nature, think twice. Most of the logging today is done for the production of your newspaper and telephone books (who uses those anymore anyway??). Recycle ‘em.

I’d rather use glass bottles instead of aluminum cans but I do understand that in this vast country of America, weight is an transportation issue (and therefore an issue on the CO2 footprint and fuel consumption and costs) and so the only way to deal with it is to recycle both and to do so strictly: glass and aluminum. Same goes for cans, but I do see that we have a sanitary problem here: Where to store them for extended amounts of time before you have collected enough to make it reasonable to bring them to a recycling center? Those cans are often food cans wich tend to mold and smell and attract unwanted animals like ants and racoons, if you collect them outside your home. Washing up those cans is only a half satisfactory solution –> waste of water and energy. If you have a big garage for storing it you can keep out the racoons but not the mold, the smell, and the ants. I have not figured this one out yet. So any suggestions are welcome in the commentary section to this article. I’m sure there are a lot more smart recycling solutions and ideas out there and you are most welcomed to post them in the commentaries too. I will add more of my ideas and practices about recycling there too.

I know this article isn’t news to most of you guys who read this, but as bored as I am sometimes, I indulge myself in writing up stuff like that anyway and imagine that there is some reader who hasn’t cared about those things that much and does now a little bit more. Making the world a little bit better. Just a little bit.


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