Dirty Talk

A Rant About Why I’m Against Recycling And SomeThings We Can Do Instead

There is beauty in anything. (c) Sonja Habenicht

I admit it. I can’t empty the bins. I struggle looking at them. I glare at it with contempt. I look at them every morning when I wake up and see them all the time. I have an opportunity to do something about it multiple times a day.
I just cannot bring myself.

Is it the drag of having to walk all the way to the front of the house? (I don’t go there all that much, and when I do, I think the whole town would know. Remember Hitchcock’s “Room with a View”? We are living in a flood area where all houses are on posts and I can easily see into 12 people’s backyard from my living room. Should I start getting paranoid?)

Am I painfully lazy?

Have I got a broken arm in a sling?

I tell you what it is. I have separation anxiety with my recycling bin. I can’t let it go.

I just think it’s too precious to give to someone else. I think I can do better things with that stuff. I think there’s too much good stuff, that just, somehow, might be usable. Looking at an empty carton of anything my thought process goes something like this:

“There’s gotta be a way to turn you into something useful, right? Just tell me what you want to be. I can do it, I promise.

Now, out with it. Come on, don’t leave me hanging. I can find you a new purpose, I’m sure there is one.

I mean it.

For real.


Going through this ‘checklist’, I do come up with a bunch of things half the time and a lot of the time they get to stay in the cupboard for ‘later’. And ‘later’ I’m always grateful, I did hang onto it. Yesterday I needed to start a bunch for seedlings and I was thankful I kept all my old toilet roll insides, the cardboard thing that doesn’t seem to have a name on its own, and egg cartons. Having those at my disposal saved me hours of newspaper cutting, folding, rolling or having to go out and buy trays at the store… And I go further: I am THAT stingy, I even cut the tubes in half to double the outcome.

So yeah, that’s pretty cool and all, but why be so anxious?

Ultimately, I think, it’s the fear of the final, absolute, death of things. You spend so much money acquiring stuff and then all you do is empty it in a trash can. I refuse to pay money for that. I refuse to spend precious time working for that money. And I refuse to ditch perfectly good things at the first opportunity.

So why not recycle?

That’s difficult to answer.
Recycling might make us feel better than simply throwing things in the General Waste, but only a fraction of the stuff ends up being recycled; if it does, it still takes petrol to get there, it uses up energy and water in the process, and, even in the most ideal of cases, only gets ‘down-cycled’, not ‘re-cycled’. The recycling of plastics is particularly bewildering. The general recycling symbol alone (or ‘Mobius Loop’) does not necessarily indicate whether the product is recyclable in your area. Every country and even every council decides differently on what they do or don’t recycle. It is an incredibly confusing topic and nearly half of all Australians struggle with identifying what can go into the Yellow Bin. (There’s a pretty comprehensive guide called “Recycling Myths: Sorting the Facts from the Fiction” by Planet Arc, click here )

Back to my house. Generally I would try and stay away from all packaging if at all possible. But then there are still things I accumulate over time. Take tin cans as another example. (Note: I have drastically reduced my usage of cans and just started buying dried lentils, beans and chickpeas. Canned tomatoes are really nowhere near as great as fresh tomatoes from the markets. So the one thing left is coconut cream for us.) The things you can do with that stuff!! OK, art projects aside, I’m thinking storage. Storage of basically anything. All you need is a bit of paint and it will probably even look nice. My recent agenda has been to collect enough cans (yep, it’s hard without those tomatoes) to make a little inside or deck garden. Maybe garden is the wrong word; gives you quite a romantic image, doesn’t it? More like hodgepodge of edible plants. Lettuce, spinach, herbs and the like. The stuff that dies outside; subtropical summers can be lethal to the cabbage family. Bit of sand, bit of gravel and a lump of soil — voila. Tin can edible garden fantasy realised.

Little guys (c) Sonja Habenicht

It’s a similar story for those big milk bottles. Not quite as pretty, but larger, so that would work wonders for a deck/balcony edible garden; skip the sand and gravel and just drill a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage.
(Edit: Or basically anything that’s at hand and can hold plants and soil, I am not trying to limit anyone to tin cans and milk bottles.)

So why throw that stuff out? Cardboard and paper are great for cleaning up stuff, they can be the carbon in your compost, or just a good old fire starter. All those cardboard boxes of any sort can come up with new identities, given the right opportunity. And so on and so on…

Do I sound obsessive?

Maybe I do. But speaking from the heart of a dirty old hippy — it hurts to throw stuff out. Seeing something not even being recyclable scares the living daisies out of me and I will try and avoid it like the plague. And I will try to replace it with a better, friendlier, alternative. Sometimes that’s hard work and sometimes it may not even be possible at all. I remember moving into a warehouse in Sydney’s Inner West and the bloody place didn’t have a recycling bin. That’s right, 11 (illegal) occupants, who did not have the peace of mind that their plastic containers, milk cartons and cardboard boxes got to live a second life. (To be fair, the ‘landlord’ might have had more pressing issues on his mind; like what colour the roof should be after the entire place combusted at the rather abrupt end of my tenancy. But that has to make for a compelling read another time.) And obviously there can be a distinct lack of space when cohabiting with anyone in a major city.

The bottom line is, there are many, many alternatives to the conventional route. We don’t have to take plastic bags at the supermarket counter every time. We don’t have to throw away our old boxes and buy prettier one’s at the gift store or post office. We can even choose to keep old newspaper and reread it for the next 20 years, if we so wish.
It’s OK to reuse items that weren’t specifically made for that purpose.

Just don’t believe everything they say you ‘need’ and start getting creative.
It’s up to us what gets to be ‘rubbish’ and what doesn’t.

Give it a go.

(c) Sonja Habenicht

(We only put our bins on the kerbside so rarely that I bet our neighbours are wondering what we do with our corpses.)