Saving dimes and trashing soda cans

By JAYSON JACOBY, Baker City Herald November 21, 2008 03:58 pm

I found a dime in the bottom of my backpack, its silvery sheen concealed by a Three Musketeers wrapper and a handful of .22 shells.

I fished the dime out and flipped it into the ceramic dish that sits on the window sill next to the kitchen sink. This is the temporary resting place for most of our loose change, the pennies going in one dish, the larger denominations in a smaller one, and all of the currency afforded a pleasant view of the Eagle Caps on fair days.

Not long after — it might in fact have been the same day — I tossed a couple of soda cans into the trash can beneath the sink.

I thought nothing of this at the time.

But some days later, while I was standing at the sink, clutching a soapy sponge, I noticed, as though for the first time, the proximity of the coin dish and the trash can. I doubt there’s more than four feet between the containers.

This revelation — it was very nearly an epiphany, actually — hit me in that powerful way unique to those instances when I realize the level of idiocy to which I am capable of descending.

I can’t at any rate think of a more apt noun than idiot with which to brand a person who saves a dime but gets rid of two pop cans worth a nickel apiece.

The explanation is the same one I employ to excuse, however lamely, most of my lapses.

I’m lazy.

I don’t mean always, but often enough that my shirking of various duties counts, it seems to me, as a significant flaw.

The thing is, saving the dime was easy.

But to get the same 10 cents from the soda cans I’d have had to find a sack to put them in and then drive two miles to the grocery store and then try to feed them into a machine that I’m pretty sure hates me.

Also I dislike groping around in sacks for beverage cans because each can inevitably retains a teaspoon or so of the liquid, and all of it spills on my hands. I used to work in a grocery store, and believe me there are few tasks as wretched as counting several hundred Old Milwaukee cans brought in by a heavy smoker who apparently owns no ash trays.

Anyway, this episode with the cans in my kitchen got me to thinking, in a broader sense, about recycling. In particular I pondered whether people who recycle religiously, including items such as milk jugs that lack a refundable deposit, are more responsible than I am, or just not so laggard.

There is, of course, no legitimate reason not to recycle everything you can.

The very notion of re-using something, of gleaning value from the same collection of molecules over and over, has about it the elegance that bathes in righteous light such technologies as wind and solar power.

Several people have told me they would recycle more if they could dump the stuff in a bin and wheel it out to the curb once a week, along with their non-recyclable trash.

A few people even claimed they have engaged in a sort of recycling sabotage — intentionally not recycling so as to drag down the county’s recycling rate and, so the saboteurs hope, prompt the state to force Baker Sanitary Service to offer curbside recycling to its customers in Baker City.

I’m sure I would be a more dedicated recycler if I had a bin. The bin would demolish the laziness excuse that I depend on now, because it’s just as easy to toss an aluminum can or a glass bottle into one receptacle as another.

My parents live in Salem, where curbside recycling is available, and their garbage can and recycling bin stand side by side in the garage, like a pair of particularly obedient plastic pets. Except for glass, you don’t even need to separate the recyclables — the newspapers and the pizza boxes and the magazines share one container.

The remedy is not so simple as I’ve made it seem, though.

Curbside recycling is convenient, yet convenience carries a cost. I suspect quite a few people around here would willingly pay extra for the ease of curbside recycling, but I’m certain that others wouldn’t, or couldn’t.

Ultimately, of course, recycling is a personal matter rather than a compulsory one. This is as it should be.

Recycling is a fine and healthy thing to do. So is cutting back on red meat. But I’d not like to live in a place where someone told me what I had to do with my empty spaghetti sauce bottles, and how often I can eat steak.

None of this, unfortunately, justifies in any way my failure to recycle.

The recycling center is less than half a mile from my house. I don’t even need a car to get the stuff over there.

What I ought to do is buy a wagon. I’d save gas and get in a nice little cardio workout in the bargain.

And I probably have enough change up on the window sill to make a deal on the wagon.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.