by Mandy Blankenship
This morning I watched, bewildered, as Greater Greenville Sanitation dumped my family’s big blue bin of recyclable waste into the garbage truck headed to the landfill. “No! They’re getting away with it!” shouted my children, 5 and 2 years old, clearly indoctrinated by their parents – Bible-believing Earth-lovers who wash residue off plastic before throwing it in the bin. Maybe it’s our fault, I wondered. Recycling pickup is next week, and my husband got the day wrong. But why put it in the garbage truck? So I called Greater Greenville Sanitation.
There are innumerable difficult things to endure during this season of COVID-19. No school. No social life. No travel. My dad’s cancer. My husband’s grandfather’s imminent death. Wearing masks like bandits every time we leave the house. A friend of mine back in Texas has called my particular journey one of parallel griefs: mourning the loss of normal life alongside the health crises of close family. Adding something seemingly small, but integral, like recycling pickup to that list of losses wasn’t what I expected.
The woman who answered GGS’s phone was defensive, saying they’re following CDC guidelines about waste removal. “We notified everyone on our website and the Nextdoor app,” she said. “Ma’am,” I said, “I don’t visit your website unless I have a problem, and I don’t have the Nextdoor app.” She referred me to the main dump, who handles recycling waste via Greenville County drop-off centers (who, interestingly, are still processing recyclables).
The woman at the main dump was gracious and understanding, saying they’ve gotten a lot of flak for this situation. She also helped me investigate the GGS website, which has no information regarding the new protocol that we can find. How are paying customers to know they’re paying for nothing?
Recycling has never been a perfect system. Communities living near landfills in any state are mostly poor and forgotten by legislators, so having the opportunity to recycle waste into something remotely useful seems like a step up. But we keep producing more waste. More single-use items, recyclable or not, don’t make things sustainable. For a long time the United States has sent recyclables to the far east to make a buck and get it off our shores. But more recently those entities have ended that special relationship.
Organizations, public or private, aren’t altruists. They will not do the right thing despite the financial implications. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the fragility of postmodern industrialization on virtually every front. We’re each having to dig deep to discover what defines us and what we hold to be true. Perhaps one fruit of this time will be taking responsibility for our actions, our own waste, physical and otherwise. I cannot pass the buck to someone else to deal with my garbage. They won’t let me. I must innovate and create new sustainable systems, or return to old ones.