Attending Nashville’s Earth Day event just two weeks after our arrival in Tennessee gave me a taste of how it could be here. Expecting very little, I was impressed and delighted by the diversity and enthusiasm on display. There is so much good work going on in terms of community food, conservation, recycling, mass transit etc. But none of this has made it into the mainstream yet.
Once Americans are sold an idea, like wireless everything or hand sanitizer they embrace it with zeal. But it can be a hard sell, and the concept of “choice” is so hard-wired that nothing must appear forced. I’m seeing far more innovation in the form of a 28th flavor of Pop Tart or yet one more way to consume cheese than a genuine way to save energy or reduce waste.
There are bigger problems we could have, but moving from a small Scottish town that was fully signed up to things such as curbside recycling, free compost bins, a frequent bus service, to a much bigger American town which doesn’t offer any of these things? It’s a tough transition, but I’m doing my best to avoid turning my carbon footprint into a colossal crater. Springfield does have recycling facilities. You must drive to them, of course. And the recycling is really just an add-on to a council-run facility where the big draw is the 8 bags of household waste you can dump there at a time.
Each visit has been different so far. At worst, it’s shut (the most eccentric of opening hours, which finally I’ve taken a note of), and at best there is a team of orange-shirted youths waiting to take your recycling and sort it for you.
I’m not sure this is their first choice of how to spend their time, but whether it’s voluntary or court-enforced, it’s nice to see them all the same.
Normally it’s just me and a couple of enormous trucks sharing the space, as I jog between the paper, cardboard, metal and plastic corners with my blue tubs, trying to get the job done before the sun melts me in to the pavement.
And there is plenty to recycle, in an environment where the plastic cup and box is King.
As I’m gratefully living with in-laws at the moment, I take two family sized buckets of plastic, paper and metal for recycling. Family members are tolerating this arrangement, which is better than I expected.
The younger children are occasionally enthusiastic; I think this is because in elementary school children are taught about global warming (which results in a lecture in the car about my using the A/C instead of just winding down the windows), and then in high school you are taught the “opposing view”.
This seems a wholly inefficient way to learn about anything, but I get the impression that in some parts of the south, global warming is considered the same way as the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy – fine for little kids, but if you believe in it at age 10 or older, you must be not quite right in the head.
I remember one particularly brilliant 18-year-old seeing my canvas shopping bags in the trunk of my car and exclaiming, “So what? You recycle?” with the same tone of voice you might use on discovering your math teacher uses an abacus.
So I avoid conversations on whether we’re making the planet hotter, just as I don’t rock the boat with questions about evolution or the Earth going around the sun. My expectations and hopes are appropriately low; all I’m trying to do is limit the amount of garbage we contribute to landfill every week.
So we kinda sorta recycle, firmly in “better than nothing” territory, conscious that in other parts of the world (and the US) they do this stuff so much better.
In the meantime, we do the best with what we’ve got, but we will also top the day off by driving 4 miles to get a Lemon-Berry fruit slush from Sonic. Because it’s late and it’s hot and we’re bored and thirsty and we’ve forgotten how to work the…hey, I’m not quite sure why we do it. But we do. And I’m going to work on that, too.