Saturday, July 15, 2017

Recycling Blues

Our kids were up visiting and puttering around the house. It has been a few years since they lived at home, and in that time we've made a few changes: nothing big, mostly cosmetic. We repainted their rooms, and jockeyed some furniture around, swapping a dresser and a chair. Elsewhere we changed a few pictures on the walls, took a mirror from one place and put it another. And we cut down a tree near the driveway, which is actually more disconcerting than it sounds, as it changes the light inside and the sightlines outside.

But perhaps the most disorienting change for them was in the kitchen. The stove was still in the same place, as were all the other major appliances. Yes, some of the dishes had been rearranged, but the plates were still in the one cabinet and the glasses in another. And depending on your point of view, we evolved or devolved by replacing the coffee maker with an electric kettle. Thankfully, they're young and good with technology, and so rolled with that one pretty easily.

What threw them was the garbage. We used to have two garbage cans, one in the cabinet under the sink, one tucked away in a similar location on the other side of the room. There were equal opportunity refuse receptacles: whichever you were closer to was the one you used. But that all changed a few years ago when the town went to single stream recycling.

If you're not familiar with it, single stream means you can throw anything that can be recycled into a single bin. Metal, plastic, glass, doesn't matter. All is carted to a high-tech sorting facility, where magnets and air jets are used to split it up and gather like with like. And so you don't need to do what we formerly did, which was to use the bins in the kitchen for garbage while keeping a whole set of cans in the garage for stuff that could be re-purposed: one for paper, another for glass and metal, still another for plastic. Now you just needed two: one for chicken bones and banana peels, and one for everything else. And so we tasked the one under the sink with the first responsibility, and the one on the other side of the room for the Frankenstein-ian stuff that could live another day.

To be fair, I can appreciate the kids' confusion. After all, it's taken me some getting used to as well, and it's still not second nature. If I'm having a snack, I have to pause in mid-chew to remember to throw the cheese rind in one place and the empty cracker box in another. Likewise when I'm baking a cake: I have to stop singing long enough to remember that eggs shells go over here, while aluminum foil goes over there. And if it's something like the wax paper that was covering the last piece of chocolate cake and still has icing on it? It's too confusing, unless I lick the icing off the paper. Actually, that's not an issue: I do that anyway.

As the kids were settling in and making themselves at home, they were busy chatting and noshing. It was wonderful to have them there, as they told us about their week and what was happening in their worlds. Then one went to throw a piece of paper under sink. NO! THAT goes over HERE, I explained. They gave me a tilt of the head and that "O. K. Dad" look, but made the switch. We continued talking, until one went to toss a peach pit in the other receptacle. STOP! THAT goes over THERE, I pointed. They did as they were asked, but understood very quickly they were dealing with someone with issues. Their reaction said it all: just go slowly, do as he says, and no one will get hurt.

They eventually got the hang of it, providing proof yet again of the value of a college education. As for me, I have learned to sort unconsciously without breaking a sweat. In a walk-and-chew-gum display of skill, I can actual carry on a conversation while making dinner and disposing of things properly. But my kitchen skills do have their limits: when I set the table, I still screw up on which side of the plate to put the knife and which to put the fork.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to bake. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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