I used to quietly yet somewhat quizzically observe my grandfather hand plucking randomly strewn pieces of garbage from the parking lot of our local grocery store, clutching them tightly in his hand until he found a proper garbage receptacle to deposit them into. Flattened soda cups, discarded fast food bags, crushed cigarette packs… virtually nothing was off limits, especially when it was in his general trajectory. This was well before recycling was a twinkle in the American sanitation system’s eyes, and while I thought it was a little odd that he troubled himself to clean up other people’s messes, I never questioned his ritualistic behavior — in fact, I watched repeatedly with wide eyes and grew to believe that it was perfectly normal (in my quirky family line, that is). Now that I’ve regrettably reached the point of adulthood with absolutely no possibility of turning back, I realize that Mother Nature needs as much assistance as we’re willing to give her. No more excuses or typical “someday” refrains for me. Personally, I believe that I have a responsibility as a global citizen to make amends because I’m just as much to blame for the current condition of our planet as everyone else. Taking note of just how much junk people drop on the ground when no one is there to point an accusatory finger is an incredibly motivating factor, and I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s inspired me to become a modern day eco-bag lady who is determined to clean up the streets, no matter how many wrinkled “oh my gawd” noses and furrowed “you’ve got to be kidding me” brows are pointed in my general direction. (The DNA coursing through my veins might also be a contributing factor to my current extracurricular hobby.) Onlookers can scrunch their faces at me all they want — why should I be embarrassed about fishing their improperly disposed yet perfectly recyclable materials out of public garbage cans? Sometimes, I just smile from ear to ear while shouting out, “It’s OK, I’ll take it from here. Really, don’t even think about lifting another finger.” Earth Day, National Hoagie Day, Hug An Australian Day — they’re all perfect occasions for me to head to the closest garbage-laden zone and work my eco-magic. With a motley mix of reusable bags looped around my arms, I typically go about the business of sorting through the bazillion 100% recyclable beverage containers that are almost always taking up precious real estate in the garbage cans dotting parks, movie theatres, schools and stores. Rescuing them (along with other ripe for the pickin’ recyclable materials) from their would-be landfill entombment in favor of a reincarnated phoenix-like future, I add my eco-booty to the rest of the PET plastics, metals, glass containers and paper-based products that are brimming from my household collection bins, feel admittedly triumphant in a job well done. What a relief that my recycling service doesn’t charge me based on the weight of my donations, or I might have to begin selling my platelets. Sure, it’s a somewhat messy business, but my rubber gloves come in quite handy, thank you very much, so I have little reason to be deterred. No, I don’t harvest mercilessly cast-aside recyclables every single day of the week, or every single weekend, for that matter, but it’s definitely a regular part of my repertoire. You can bet your PET bottle that I’m going to raise my bag(s) to Mother Nature this April 22, and who knows — maybe I’ll inspire a new grassroots trend to emerge. As far as I know, it hasn’t happened yet, but if you begin to see ordinary citizens unabashedly garbage can diving and coming up for air with jubilantly retrieved eco-treasures, then you’ll know who to snicker at — or who to give a rousing high five to, depending on what camp you belong to. Hopefully, you’re rooting for team Momma Nature.
Embracing My Inner Eco-Bag Lady
What to do on Earth Day? How about scour for recyclables?