Thursday, December 27, 2007

Recycling woes

I try hard to minimize my carbon footprint (according to the calculator, my footprint is 5.5 tonnes, compared to the US average of 20 tonnes per person, pat pat). The years in Seattle ensured that recycling would always be on my mind, and that city is a wonderful example of what is possible, where there is a constant effort to maximize recycling and reduce waste and consumption.

Anyway, after having moved to Dallas, my efforts to conserve and recycle have run into a number of challenges, and plenty of amusing incidents.

Most of Dallas city itself still doesn't recycle (though there is some recycling in Dallas suburbs). Which means if you want to recycle, you need to collect whatever you can at home, and then drop it off at the nearest recycling center. Luckily for me, I managed to find a recycling center just a couple of miles from home, and started collecting and sorting trash out at home (into the usual, paper, plastic, glass and cans). The problem though lies in taking that trash in a timely manner to the recycling center. More often than not, I end up with a small mountain of recyclable trash, which eventually makes entry into the laundry room impossible. Loading all of that into the car ends up being quite an ordeal. But it’s also led to some embarrassing situations.

On one occasion there I was, standing by the apartment elevator, with two large trash bags and two smaller bags full of cans and bottles, and on my way down, the inevitable happened. One of the bags ripped open and there were cans rolling all over the corridor. As I was chasing down one of the fugitive cans, one of my neighbors stepped forward to help, and with a twinkle in his eye asked me if I was collecting trash for a reason. Perhaps I wanted to sell them on eBay!

On another occasion I had so much trash that the trunk of our little car wouldn’t close (damn those humongous plastic milk containers). As I huffed and puffed under the warm Texas sun, another neighbor who was driving out in his truck took one look at me and said “that’s why you need a truck”, smiled and drove off. On a third occasion, I almost made it to the car intact, when I tripped on the curb by the parking lot and splattered cans and bottles across the lot. But I soldier on.

Grocery stores sometimes provide even more entertainment. I was used to taking a shopping bag to stores in Seattle. Anyway, most stores there give a choice between paper and plastic bags, and also have drop-off points for store plastic bags. But only a few stores in Dallas have drop off points, and none (at least the affordable ones) offer paper bags. So, we try to take shopping baskets with us when we shop, or try to minimize plastic bags. Often when I say I don’t want a bag, the store attendants shrug incredulously but sometimes ask ”no bags?”, as if to ask if we plan to teleport the groceries. But today, when I said we’d like to put stuff in our own shopping basket, the cashier looked at them for the first time and said “Oh sorry, I thought they were your laundry baskets”, and burst out laughing. Clearly, there couldn’t be a funnier sight in town.

The hardest part of living in Dallas though is that the city is not built for people who like to walk. The pavements are bad, most people in their cars don’t notice pedestrians, and pedestrians are a rarity in most streets (bicycles are an even rarer species). I’ve often wanted to walk the 3 miles to work (on days when the weather is reasonable), but the streets aren’t particularly safe after dark, there isn’t any one else walking (except some homeless people), and at every third intersection the pavement disappears into the street.

Living the green life in Dallas sure is challenging. It’s almost as if every possible obstacle has been placed in your way, and it just might be easier for me to train and run next year’s city marathon.

But what’s life, if it isn’t challenging.


Fëanor said...

hiya! i guess that in many ways the US is behind the curve with recycling as compared to europe or UK? owing to a recent EU mandate, the municipal councils in the UK are about to face stiff fines because they do not support quite as much recycling as the rest of the continent. but they are trying, i daresay. they have provided us with separately coloured boxes in which to stick plastic, glass and so on, but i found that the garbagewallahs toss everything into one truck - so what are we sorting for? when i asked a person at the municipal office, she told me to continue sorting as requested, but that the recyclers were also looking into automatic sorters at their end to see if those worked efficiently enough. still the recyclers are not equipped to handle so many things that could be recycled: yoghurt containers, thermocole, cardboard packaging and so on. it's all a bit frustrating.

but happy new year to you! here's wishing you and your clan a super 2008.

Sunil said...

feanor....actually there aren't single standards across the US, since each state can set an independent policy. Actually, each city can set independent policies. Many cities in Washington state or California for example have very good recycling standards. In Seattle, people recycled everything. There were bins for cans, bottles, cardboard, plastic, yard/organic waste, paper and everything else. And the city itself has bike lanes everywhere, and a good public transport system. Even around Dallas, in the "burbs", there's a decent bit of recycling.

But it will take a long time for the US to catch up to EU standards. This country is a decade behind.

A happy new year to you too.

ggop said...

I completely agree about the challenge of going green in Dallas (especially in July-Aug when its 100+ degrees and the AC is on)

San Fran is banning plastic bags in grocery stores soon. Still years behind the EU. They charge a euro in some supermarkets for bags, good incentive to bring your own bag right?

sunshine said...

wait, you were in Seattle? hehe... a fellow blogger from the same place...

Sunil said...

ggop....states like California and Washington are years ahead of the rest of the US, but are still miles behind EU standards. But bringing your own bag is just what we used to do years ago in India (my mom would go shop with two baskets in hand). It's a pity that we don't keep our good habits.

Sunshine.....Seattle was home for 5 and a half wonderful years, and it remains my favorite city.

Anonymous said...

Well Sunil - You are brave soul to contemplate walking in texas's massive city. Austin is little better off for walking/biking(special lanes like seattle) etc. But still minus the trees/special trails etc, it is tad difficult to contemplate walk/bike across the roads.
Your incidents about tripping while carrying trash bags, attempt to carry your own bag for groceries are gems to be remembered. Over here in Reliance retail outlets - attempts to carry your own bag is seen as foolish/dumb. Older times of carrying small "palya"(vegetable) bag is still around in smaller suburbs.
I remember colleague pushing me to hire a bike and come along on part of trail. Which I vehemently denied to be part of.

Jam said...

Keep up the good work mate, it's people like you that still make the planet worth living on (it's not like we still have a choice, but you never know)


Sunil said...

govind.....I'm not surprised with the attitude around Reliance stores, but it is rather saddening. Somehow India has this uncanny habit to throw out most good habits and retain the bad (where "good" of course is rather subjective). And, even in a city like Dallas, there will be some excellent avenues for outdoor recreation (like you point out), something that cannot be said about most cities. speak too generously, but hey, good words never hurt :-)

Amit said...

Sunil, you might want to check with the recycling center, but here in Boston, it's OK to flatten plastic milk containers and cans (after removing the top AND bottom using a can opener). That might save you some space, and also make it easier to pack things. Good for you!!

Also, if you get enough people interested and get a petition, maybe your city will consider curbside recycling.