Those who know me well know that one of my passions is recycling. I recycled red solo cups at college parties. I carry empty glass Snapple bottles on my carry-on through several airports until I see a recycle bin. It is common for my husband to find me staring into our trash can, looking perplexed at why he would find it acceptable to throw away an empty milk jug (he’s a very patient fellow). Recycling is kind of my thing.
Am I a liberal, tree-hugging hippie? I’ve been asked this before. Because desiring to recycle an aluminum can must be a direct result of my political leanings. People have asked the same thing when they find out I drive a hybrid SUV. I’m not sure when Republicans added Anti-Earth to their political platform, because apparently I can’t be both right-leaning and care about waste. Believe it or not, this post is not a political rant.
Actually, I just grew up in an area where recycling was free and easy. I’m used to it. The more glass, cans, and plastic that went into the big recycle bin, the lighter the trash bags were, and the less frequently my brother and I had to take them out. Less trash in landfills. Good feelings about being stewards of our natural resources. My parents encouraged it. I think a desire to recycle is a nice virtue to instill in a child.
Over ten years ago, when I was in seventh grade in a public middle school in the Midwest, I got it in my head that I wanted to make a difference. I decided that what bugged me most about my school was that our school lunches were served on styrofoam trays with plastic utensils. I did the math, and discovered that if 300 students ate lunch each day, by the end of a 180-day school year, we would have thrown 162,000 plastic forks, spoons, and knives into a landfill. This seemed astronomically wasteful to me. I reasoned that, since our giant school kitchen had dishwashers, we simply switch to metal utensils that were washed every day. I had a few friends who decided to take up this cause with me, and we managed to get a slot on the agenda for one of the monthly school board meetings to bring up our issue. The school board patiently listened to us, and even had one of the members schedule a meeting during school hours to talk to us more. I remember the lady we spoke to promised to look into it. As I recall, nothing ever happened, but I guess I felt like I had done my part.
I was remembering this story this morning when I stopped by my classroom. I left my classroom in a hurry on the last day of school, and it was in a sorry state indeed. All year long, my lifelong passion to recycle what can be recycled meant that I kept every paper that I assigned instead of throwing it away. I made thousands of copies over the last ten months; just throwing it all away seemed like a disgraceful thing to do to the trees who gave their lives for my students’ education. So I saved them to be recycled.
Earlier in the year, our wonderful Key Club maintained a recycling program. Each week, students would come during lunch pushing a big cart, and teachers would unload all our paper from the week. Just before Christmas, the company that Key Club worked through stopped accepting office paper, so Key Club stopped picking it up.
Thankfully, my city recycles, so I tried to bring boxes of paper home at the end of the week for recycling. However, I often found that with my briefcase, lunch box, coffee mug, and papers to grade, combined with the fact that my classroom is on the second floor far from the parking lot, I rarely took these boxes home. Slowly, my filing cabinet, spare bookshelf space, under my desk, and behind my chair stacked with rising tides of paper. If I rolled too far back and bumped into something, the piles might collapse and swallow me like the Blob. I’m pretty sure my students began to wonder if I was exhibiting hoarder tendencies.
Thus, I arrived this morning to realize just how many thousands of pages I had stacked on the floor, waiting to be recycled. I spent about forty minutes digging up boxes, sorting through stacks, removing paper clips, and pulling one-sided copies that could be used for scratch paper. I felt like an archaeologist unearthing secrets from the past. Near the bottom of the piles, I found the fall semester’s final exams and quite a few stacks of To Kill a Mockingbird essays. Plus, LOTS of dust bunnies, since no one could properly sweep behind my desk since Christmas.
Finally, I had five crates of paper that I could take home to recycle. I could only carry two, so I left the rest stacked on top of my desk so our fabulous janitorial staff did not have to wax around my recyclables. I must add “Find a better way to recycle” to my Things to Do Better Next Year list. I hope my seventh grade self would be proud of me.