"Which bin should I throw these in?" my guest asked, after helping me clear the dinner table.
"Oh, let me handle that," I said, taking the stack from him. It's not like I was being a martyr; after all, I'd cooked a full dinner for him and his wife, but I'd served it on paper plates and used plastic cutlery, all the while pretending it was a one-time thing. ("Oh, do you mind?") But it wasn't. We used paper all the time.
And we didn't throw it in a separate bin.
But I didn't want to announce to all our guests that we don't really recycle.
Look, I'm a card-carrying Blue-State liberal, skip-hopping between L.A. and NYC. I believe in most socially liberal causes: same-sex marriage, helping the poor, a woman's right to choose and so on. I know that climate change is a real problem.
I just can't get on board with recycling.
Yes, it's a real hassle. I don't feel like having three separate garbage cans. We have two—one for bottles and cans and another for regular food (sorry, no composting either!). But three? It seems excessive. Besides, I don't have a dishwasher—you're looking at her.
But it's not just the hassle that bugs me. I feel like it's pointless.
And I'm not the only one. Recent studies have confirmed it's a waste of energy, too. "Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it's still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill," John Tierney wrote in the New York Times. Rinsing a plastic bottle out before recycling it costs more than just chucking it, due to the price of water, the article went on to point out.
Like so many good, liberal things we feel we must do, sometimes the solution is bigger than the problem. It reminds me of all those "eat organic" admonitions—one of my doctors tried to convince me to do it—but how much energy is being consumed by getting us the organic vegetables? The math just doesn't add up. We harm the earth by trying to save it.
Not that I'm trying to save the earth. Let's not kid ourselves here. I mean, I use paper plates (but then again, don't waste water washing dishes, so there's that, right?).
But why do I have to fall lockstep into every single liberal cause? Must I use a Mac just because I'm a writer? (Yes, we're all individuals, right? Except every time I walk into a coffee shop to work, I'm the only one whose not sporting the Apple logo.) My husband, a staunch Democrat, opposes unions. Can't we do some things differently?
In short, no. We live in a black and white country, not with a parliamentary government that represents different interests.
I imagine what would happen if we told our guests, "Oh, we don't really recycle," or even, "We're not strict about it." There would be a very pregnant pause, maybe a hasty taking leave and probably not a return visit. "What's next, do they teach their kid to litter too?" they'd probably whisper to each other on their way home.
Publically admitting I don't religiously recycle would be like a churchgoer saying he doesn't really believe in the Second Coming.
So I keep it to myself.
And when we get a note from management asking all tenants to be more careful about sorting through our paper and cardboard, glass and aluminum and regular garbage, I quickly crumple it up and throw it in the garbage—probably the wrong one.