Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Plastic: the Last Straw


It appears to have rained last night. Even if I hadn’t heard it myself, I’d know from all the local hubbub on social media. I’ve been saving this tidbit for just such an occasion.

On August 10th, the Twitter account for Howard County Recycles shared the request shown above:

Heavy rain is expected in #HoCo today. Wet paper & cardboard is more difficult to process & bale at the recycling facility than dry material, so please try to keep your paper & cardboard as dry as possible by covering open top bins or bringing them indoors.

Yes, we want your cardboard. No, we don’t want your wet cardboard. I hadn’t known that, so that’s useful information. 

But it was the next tweet that really set me off. On August 16, addressing medical supplies, they wrote:

In addition, empty prescription pill bottles must go in the trash.

Oh my word. That’s the last straw. I can’t take it any more. 

Pill bottles. Prescription pill bottles. Say it ain’t so. So all the years I’ve been dutifully soaking them to get the labels off…all a waste. Well, more than a waste, actually. Not only are they not recyclable, they are probably gumming up the works. 


I earnestly want to recycle. I check in with HoCo Recycles pretty regularly to make sure I understand what is recyclable and what is not. I really, really want to do the right thing.

It’s not helping. I get all the rules straight and then some new kind of packaging waltzes in my door that doesn’t seem to fall in any of the categories. 

I made a pitch a couple of years ago for a recycling app that would take all the guesswork out of these decisions.

I have an app on my phone that lets me identify plants. You take a photograph and the app compares it to its own photographic database of plants. I’m pretty sure it uses your location to rule out, for instance, plants that aren’t native to your particular area. 

So here’s my pitch: make an app like that but for recycling. I hold my phone’s camera over the item, take a picture, the app knows my location and can tell me if that thing is recyclable where I live. Bingo.

“Congratulations! You have spotted a Number 1 plastic clamshell container. These containers are often used for fresh fruit and deli items. Unfortunately they are not recycled in Howard County, Maryland.” - - Recycling Fail, Village Green/Town², July 6, 2021

Today I’m beginning to think that’s not enough. I need access to a live person, maybe not 24/7, but at least often enough that I can hold up items and ask, “This?” “How about this?” “And what about this one?” On a daily basis. Maybe call it “TeleTrash.” 

I’ll bet there are plenty of folks out there like me who would use it. Yes, it would cost money but it would cut down on well-meaning wish-cycling. You’d have an expert who could make the call authoritatively and that would be that. No more worrying. No more second-guessing. 

“Teletrash: peace of mind for your all recycling worries and woes.”

Will it happen? No. Can we find a better way? I sure hope so. In the meantime, who needs some leftover prescription bottles?

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