When it first began in 1974, curbside recycling was for newspapers. Nearly forty years later, recycling now includes such objects as beer cans, wine bottles, frozen pizza boxes, diet soda cans, kitty litter boxes, and yogurt containers. Walking beside the curbs in my neighborhood, I like to analyze the food, beverage, and household consumption evident in my neighbors’ recycling bins. I try to figure out why one neighbor needed the Red Bull last week. Wow, this half of the block still subscribes to the local newspaper. Any magazines?
According to Christian Lander, the author of Stuff White People Like, white people like to recycle. Lander says white people like to think they can buy anything without feeling guilty about the consumption or waste that results. While I have no idea whether or not my interest in recycling comes as result of my racial background (and I know people of all different racial and ethnic backgrounds who recycle in my community), I like to peer into my neighbors’ recycling bins and try to make sense of their previous weeks.
Once I check for content, I assess the organizational skills of each neighbor. Are boxes broken down? Is paper separated from plastic? Are there great mounds or tidy piles? Is everything thrown together or is it separated out? Are there any items that are not recyclable?
What and how much we put out on the curb each week says a lot about how we spend our time. A recycling bin is not just a place of transit anymore. It can serve as a weekly diary of our lives. You are more than welcome to visit my curb next Monday morning. You will learn a lot about how I spend my days by what ends up in my blue bin.