I am a fierce and competitive recycler. Nothing makes me happier than an almost-empty trash bin on Garbage Day. I have, over the years, anguished over whether waxed-paper milk cartons are recyclable (they are not, in our area) and where to take Styrofoam egg cartons after I have accumulated hundreds of them and can no longer pretend that I’m going to use all of them to start seeds. (The Peoples Church recycles Styrofoam on the second Sunday of each month.)
I shred sensitive mail so it can be recycled, I redact prescription bottles to recycle them, and I size up all objects entering the house in terms of whether the packaging is recyclable. On one memorable occasion I stabbed myself in the palm with a pair of kitchen scissors trying to separate the metal rim from an otherwise cardboard coffee can. I’m serious about this.
Instead of carrying a blue container full of recycling to the curb on a weekly basis, we drive a car laden with plastic milk jugs and flattened cardboard boxes to the MSU Recycling Center on campus. When there were large City of East Lansing Bins in an area near Valley Court, we took our recycling there. I may or may not, during those years, have fished through the Glossy Magazine bin to score a copy of The Atlantic or The New Yorker. (Yet another perk of living in a college town.) We followed the bins to an area near the East Lansing Public Schools bus lot, but then switched to MSU Recycling Center when the only remaining East Lansing drop-off facility became one on State Road, farther away than MSU’s.
Yesterday, I remarked to Captain Carnivore that the house was likely to sink under the collective weight of accumulated recycling, and that dying in a sinkhole filled with tuna cans and pickle jars was not an acceptable ending to my life. After a conference between high-ranking domestic officials, we decided that we could make a run, but that we needed to get on and off campus before the basketball game. This was partly because we wanted to watch the game, and partly because it’s better not to be driving across campus right after MSU wins or loses a high-stakes game during March Madness.
It was really cold on Sunday, and as we dutifully and virtuously heaved plastic bins of refuse into the car, our student neighbors were clearly enjoying pre-game celebrations that bespoke beer, hot wings and a kind of anxiety mingled with joy that is rarely associated with doing the recycling. I thought, fleetingly, about the fact that we could just put out a week-by-week assortment of recycling in the blue box and never again make the trek to campus.
The truth, I realized as we drove onto campus yesterday, curving around Sparty, is that a trip to the Recycling Center is the reward for a job well done, frequently an unexpected social occasion, and a chance to smash the occasional wine bottle. Recycling is a thing we do for the greater good, but a lot of it is kind of a hassle what with all the rinsing and separating and sorting the regular stuff from the things that can only be divested at special events or locations. The rewards matter.
On arrival at the Center, I felt a surge of camaraderie with the other recyclers who had braved a cold, gray Sunday afternoon to hustle bags, boxes and stacks to the appropriate bins. People said “hi” to one another as they dumped bundles of newspapers, and made small talk about how it was not so much spring around here, yet. An older woman lost a milk jug in a gust of wind and a young man gallantly chased it down and tossed it into the lofty opening in the special corral for empty jugs.
There were students there, a young family in a van, and a neighbor we recognized and hailed. (There often is.) As Captain Carnivore reached into the back seat to remove a bag of glass bottles and jars, I stopped him. “I want to do those,” I told him. “It’s been a week.”
And, in the end, I knew that there was one more benefit to hauling the recycling to campus and personally hurling a few pickle jars into the bin full of glass: free therapy.
MSU’s Recycling Center is located at 468 Green Way, just south of the intersection of Farm Lane and Service Drive. The Center is open to the public 24/7 and accepts these items.