Catastrophic weather events and tax-payer hell are admittedly superior nuisances to one of my latest first-world problems, but I’m not going to let that prevent me from sharing a little recent frustration. Actually, “recent” isn’t strictly accurate, as this is an annoyance that’s been plaguing me for the last year, and my irritation is down to my fellow citizens rather than the faceless powers that be (as far as I know…).
When I moved into this flat, one of the first things I did after sorting out the bills was to contact the council and ask for a recycling bag. This was straightforward. My liberal guilt is not assuaged by the fact that I use only public transport (my black soul yearns for my old Subaru, and if I were richer, I would have it), but it is somewhat appeased by my rabid recycling habit. Glass, plastic, and aluminum are all lovingly washed out and dried next to the sink, to be placed with smug reverence in my Recycling Bag. I rip the plastic windows out of my junkmail to recycle the envelopes, and take anything with my name on to work to shred and return to the holy green bag. I take pride (yes, pride!) in the fact that my two-person household produces half a 13 gallon bag a week of trash. If I had a garden, I would have a compost heap and grow my own herbs, and your eyes would water in the face of my fuckin’ halo.
Basically, recycling not only makes me feel righteous, it just feels right. As a person who actually has apocalyptic nightmares about the world drowning in mountains of trash, this is my last and weakest defense against the coming garbage tsunami, and as a drinker, it is solace. We may consume the contents of the beer and wine, but by god, the packaging is to be used again. Ditto for the oven-ready meals.
As a liberal consumer with liberal culpability, I have to recycle. Just as Hitler was a vegetarian, whatever else I am responsible for inflicting on the environment, I can comfort myself with the fact that at least I am a Dedicated Recycler.
So, I ordered my recycling bag and saved up my recycling for two weeks. When the bag came, I was pleased to hoist up my contributions on the wrought-iron fence outside my flat, representing my own milk and canned-soup habit in the face of my thoughtful neighbors. Despite the fact that I didn’t know any of them, I felt like a part of the conscientious community. It barely registered that I appeared to be the only recycler in my corner-block of four apartments. I was part of the whole solution, after all, and felt a soft glow of togetherness throughout the day, until I returned home that evening after work and my bag was gone.
Well, that’s odd, I thought. Surely they don’t recycle the bag as well…? It is all plasticized, and I clearly (proudly!) wrote my flat number on it. Perhaps there had been a mistake. I searched around; no mistake. My bag was simply gone, and I ordered a new one from the council and once again stockpiled my recyclables. Ten days later, I had a new bag and, undaunted, muscled it back into place. I was relieved to come home that evening and discover it emptied and safely twisted around the fencepost.
Things went on happily for another two weeks. The third week, I arrived home early at 6:45, and witnessed an immaculately-dressed white woman remove my recycling bag from its post and carry it across the street. A thief caught in the act! I sprinted to intercept her.
“Excuse me, but what exactly are you doing?”
“Oh, so sorry, is this yours?” She seemed to find it amusing, not embarrassed at all. “I was just moving it as I have an opening, you see.”
It suddenly occurred to me that the woman was the very successful owner of the posh art gallery next door; I had heard horror stories about her, but had yet to meet her in the flesh. It was said she was arrogant, shrewish, even a little crazed, but she was grinning at me impishly, and only relocating my bag across the street. I was even slightly charmed that she was rushing about herself to ensure the exterior of the building looked as nice as possible for the viewers.
Slightly mollified, I explained. “Oh, of course, it’s no problem. It’s just that my recycling bag was, well, stolen a couple of weeks ago, and I wondered. So sorry, it’s fine if it’s just on the other side of the street.”
She laughed appealingly and clutched my arm. “Darling, forgive me! I thought it belonged to those filthy Chinese across the street, you know.”
Enter: Stunned Silence.
I’d like to say that I countered with a withering defense of not only the Chinese as a people, but specifically for my wrongly-accused and allegedly Chinese neighbors (who could be Korean or Malaysian for all we know), but I instead was rendered stupefied. She dragged me back to our (white?) side of the street and pressed an invitation into my hand for the gallery opening and some free champagne.
I have recounted this story enough times for shock value that I sometime worry that “those filthy Chinese” will become such a part of my insider vocabulary I will thoughtlessly reference it in uninitiated company. I would hope not.
But back to the business of being Green. Once that second recycling bag was stolen, I was cautious, but with working all day, I couldn’t do much to protect it. I did quickly learn not to leave it out the night before, as bar patrons would use it for all manner of things (ashtray and beer disposal being the most polite). I came home one day to find that, after it had been emptied of recycling, someone had deposited an entire plant in the bag, including soil. To date, I have had five recycling bags stolen, with no idea why.
Because, seriously, WHY? Who is stealing my bag, and what are they possibly doing with it? It’s not that some drunk jerk ripped it off its post and carried it halfway down the street before abandoning it. I’ve done reconn. It’s always just gone. I have checked neighbors’ bags up and down three blocks and discovered nothing. Every week with a missing bag, I put my recycling out in plastic with a note: “Sorry! Recycling – Bag ordered again. Thanks!” They take it, but I want my official bag. I am a taxpayer, goddammit.
The last time the official recycling bag was stolen, a month ago, the Boy Person had brought back one of those slushy, massive IKEA bags. I stapled a note to it, as per usual, and they emptied it. “Fine,” I said. “We’ll use this until the council sends a new bag.”
The second week with the IKEA bag, I went downstairs at 8:30 to go to work, and it was gone, contents and all. Every other recycling bag was still on the street in front of my neighbors’ houses; the recycling team didn’t just decide to confiscate our illicit bag – someone else had – and it was like it had never been there.
I ordered a sixth bag. After three weeks without it being delivered, I ordered again, and both came at once. I now have a backup bag, but it’s not going to fix my obsession to determine who the fuck is stealing my recycling bag. The Boy and I are on the final season of “The Wire” and there have been many “joking” conversations about assembling a periscope and recruiting CIs to clear up this mess. He’s joking, I ain’t playing. The new routine is I take the bag out at 8:15 on a Monday morning, and he is to check it at 8:45. If the collectors haven’t been till then, he checks 15 minutes later and then locks it up. He’s refusing to hang out on a neighboring stoop all day to eyeball the action, which would be my preference.
Seriously – what’s a girl got to do to recycle!?