Just Call Me Lisa Simpson: Saving the World a Can at a Time

Recyclng program Lake City COFor as long as I can remember, recycling has been a way of life for me. Growing up on the left coast, I can’t remember a time when I threw cans or bottles in the trash. So imagine my surprise when we left our little Northern California cocoon, and got a reality check by seeing how the rest of the country approaches the recycling issue — or rather, avoids it altogether.

During our early days on the road, I kept getting annoyed at the number of RV parks that lacked recycling facilities. About the only places that did offer any kind of recycling were national parks, which only take aluminum cans. It killed me to toss recyclables, but in our little 5th wheel, I felt we didn’t have a choice.

For a while I considered being as green as my RVing friend Sara, and carrying around our recyclables and compost matter until we found a collection point. But honestly, I’m not that gutsy, and unwilling to put up with storing this stuff in our shower where she does. Also, with our big ol’ dog Jerry along, I don’t want our RV smelling any funkier than I think it does. I had to pick my battles, and into the trash went our recyclables.

Throughout the middle of the country, we saw few, if any, small towns with extensive recycling programs in place. When we landed in Spearfish, South Dakota (population about 10,000), we asked the local economic development guy why they didn’t have a recycling program in place.

Imagine Rock Vickers Ranch Lake City COHe explained that it was a matter of cost-effectiveness. Spearfish had a program once, but couldn’t afford to ship it out to the nearest recycling facilities in Rapid City, 50 miles away . This is the same story with most small towns. Recycling is voluntary, and residents must take their items to a redemption center themselves. As far as e-waste goes, if you ask locals where to take it, they’ll go “what’s e-waste?”

Here at Vickers Ranch, a while back, the owners tried setting out recycling bins for guests, but the bins kept attracting yellow jackets, and even worse, bears. It was an open invitation for destruction and dead bears, so they gave up.

When I saw the huge amount of recyclables that go in the trash each day, I asked the owners if I could collect cans and bottles, and then store them in a bear-resistant metal barn until they could be taken to the nearest big recycling station, 55 miles away in Gunnison. They were fine with it, so now when I’m cleaning cabins, I’ll put on my big rubber gloves, and dive into the trash to fish out recyclables.

Lisa SimpsonStill, I can only collect what I see when I clean cabins five times a week. But the rest of the time, Jim says that when the garbage gets collected every evening, tons of bottles and plastic still ends up in the landfill. Just thinking about this makes me feel overwhelmed, like Lisa Simpson trying to save the world.

I admit, I’m only one person, I can only do what I can do, whether it’s pulling cans and bottles out of the trash, or getting into discussions with rednecks about why Obama needs to win this election. As long as I do something, I sleep a little better at night.

21 thoughts on “Just Call Me Lisa Simpson: Saving the World a Can at a Time”

  1. Joe thanks for writing. I suppose I was griping more about the lack of residential curbside recycling that Spearfish doesn’t have. I’m not sure if the ED guy told us about your commercial service or not.

    I do hope that you’re able to get residents to use your recycling service more. After seven years you’d think they would catch on. Keep on banging the drum, and hopefully they, and the city, will. Thanks for doing such heavy lifting over there. Keep it up!

  2. I found this on a random search and was drawn by the no recycling in Spearfish SD. I run the recycling business in town and the economic development person in the chamber of commerce is a customer of mine. I pickup paper of all kinds, cardboard, and pallets. The residential business will start again as I am finding ways of handling them.

    Please let me know who you talked with so they can be properly informed. I’ve been runing the pickup service for going on seven years and wish folks would just remember it is here and if used I will be able to expand.

  3. Heya, it’s very cool to hear about sustainabilty and recycling from the RV world. I work for a company that green conventions and meetings and one of the biggest challenges is that even the big cities that we go into don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to handle recycling. Some times even if the city itself does, the convention center itself doesn’t even contract with a hauler to recycle. And…even if a city and/or convention does recycled, what exactly do they recycle (some are just paper and cans). I am really spoiled because I live in Portland, OR and reycling and composting is almost a religion here.

    But a element of integrated recycling that never even dawned on me is the fact that small towns simply don’t have convenient recycling centers. One of the pieces of the puzzle is that each city/county/state etc has their own rules/unions/monopolies/zones within a city about who the haulers are and then each of those haulers have a different process for recycling (even down to do they mix recycling and separate at the plant or what?)

    I do agree that we need direction from the top….but the challenges at the local level are sometimes boggling. What really seems to have the impact is our choices as consumers and voting with our dollars. I know this is a bad analogy but it’s sort of like the worlds oldest profession (if no ones buys it it won’t get sold)….I’m just sayin’.

  4. Now that is a great idea, akc, buy biodegradable stuff to begin with and then just compost the suckers. Rene, do you think that the folks you are working for would consider that even if it cost more? It would save them dump fees.

  5. Hey Rene,
    I bet that ranch uses a ton of disposable plastic utensils and all. Maybe you can convince them to use something like “Spudware” biodegradable utensils.

    There are a whole bunch of these Potato utensils poping up, they are potato starch based and they only take a half year to break down. Our cafe uses them now but since I mostly bring my own lunch I just use real cutlery and wash it once in a while :O


  6. Hey Lance, you are so lucky to have a basement in your rig. Our 24′ 5er has just one place large enough to hold recyclables, but it holds our solar inverter and related electronics instead. I’m not brave enough to put them in the shower, I would hate to look at it whenever I went in there.

    I agree about a website drop-off locations. Sounds like a need that should be filled. I’ll get Jim on that!

    Thanks for writing.

  7. Recycling is a big deal for us, and we have kept a few weeks of stored recyclables in our shower or in a basement until we come across a recycling center. There has been only one time in three years of full timing that we had to throw recyclables away…

    The trend I’ve noticed is that bigger cities and communities tend to recycle better, due in part to the fact that it’s often too costly for small towns. Some rural folks drive miles and miles to recycle, but most people just don’t bother.

    One pet peeve of ours is RV parks located in recycle-friendly areas that don’t recycle! It’s crazy. We’ve had to resort to midnight runs to deposit our recyclables in neighborhood bins while no one is looking—it seems strange to have to do that.

    One other thing I’ve longed for when we arrive in strange and new places is a website that lists recycling drop-off locations; sometimes schools or grocery store parking lots have bins, but if we don’t know an area very well it can be a pain to find these drop-offs.

  8. We, too, struggle with the question of whether to store recyclables in the RV or throw them out. We keep them until they are overwhelming, THEN throw them out 🙁 I share your frustrations.

    We tend to choose the other end of the process as our crusade: convince ourselves and then (hopefully) others to buy less of everything. Less stuff purchased, less stuff manufactured, less stuff tossed away. At the very least, be conscious of what packaging an item comes in.

    It’s a Sisyphusian task.

  9. Wow you guys, I didn’t even think that my Obama comment would lead to this. I think I just threw it in there, because watching Obama’s campaign has really inspired me like no other politician ever. More than ever before, I want to put hopelessness aside and tackle seemingly insurmountable projects like my little recycling program here. Yes, I can make a difference when I pull recycling from the trash, I tell myself!

    Jack, I do understand your point now, about where recycling programs get started. I didn’t when I first read it at 5 am this morning. I appreciate your reading our blog, by the way, even if we do have opposing political viewpoints. Thanks for making the discussion so interesting. And of course, thank you for your service to this country.

    But I also agree with what Susan has to say: if we had a national administration that was truly on board with green energy, conservation and sustainable living, our rural communities, small businesses, etc., would have the funds they needed to implement real change.

    Kale, YES! Totally agree about wasteful packaging. And while we’re at it, let’s not forget how in America, the consumer gets the bill for e-waste recycling. WE pay for disposal, whereas in Europe, manufacturers pay for their disposal at the front end, before the items ever leave the warehouse. The way we deal with e-waste in this country is wrong, all in the name of cheap goods.

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments, you made my day.

  10. Kale, you slipped your comment in just ahead of me. Of course you are right. If the manufacturers used less and greener packaging, the need to recycle in the first place would be greatly reduced.

    I recently read a comment from someone at the Natural Resources Defense Council saying that here they are, one of the largest environmental groups in the country and at their headquarters in Washington D.C. they can’t find a way to recycle no. 4 plastic to save their lives. So who can blame the smaller communities Rene mentions if they choose to do business as usual? Hey Rene, there’s a job- start a regional business picking up recyclables from small towns for transport to a central processing plant. Wonder if it would pencil out? Probably only if you could run the vehicles on used veggie oil.

  11. I respectfully disagree. No, it’s not BS. Leadership starts at the top and the President of the United States has a bully pulpit like no other. If the White House publicized its recycling efforts it would be bound to influence state and local officials all the way down the food chain. But yes, the “dirty details” have to be implemented on a community and county level. Like so many things, it’s a matter of political will more than anything else.

    Jack, I have tremendous respect for our armed forces (my husband was Air Force Security Service in Berlin, early 1960s), so much so that I would never, ever put them in harm’s way without a clear, compelling reason. The current war of choice in Iraq doesn’t even come close. I don’t think a single American should die or be injured to line the pockets of Cheney’s oil buddies or to aggrandize Bush’s ego.

    We need the first president of the 21st century, not one who can barely get online, however heroic his service to this country (which it was). Right on, Rene!

  12. Where does all this stuff come from??…O that’s right..the manufactor. Don’t you think they should be packaging in a greener way?…Check out your dish soap for instants, does it have phosphate in it?..It kills everything in it’s path after you drain your sink!! It has been band in alot of countries…why not U.S.A? mmm? I think we all need to do our “little part”…let’s keep on liv’in.

  13. I’m sorry… I thought we were talking about Environmental Issues and Recycling. I guess I was wrong. By the way, I am a retired Air Force Vietnam Vet with two tours in SEA so the ultimate sacrifice of those in the service of our country is something I certainly do not take lightly. My point was and still is that if we want to promote more recycling, then it has to be done at the local level. The White House has already done all it can do. The insertion of presidential candidates into this discussion is simply political BS and it’s time for a reality check.

  14. “does`t matter” jack ? ask the parents of the 4000 plus dead service people`s loved ones if it matters that they died for a LIE ?

  15. Obama or McCain, it doesn’t matter. My point is that recycling depends on who is in office at the local level…not the White House. If City Government supports it then it will happen. If citizens were really serious about recycling…a lot of them…then elect those local leaders who feel the same way. That’s the only way it will happen.

  16. Come on down, we could use some “progressive” (like recycling is so progressive) folks!

    I have bags of plastic in my garage that have to somehow get down to a recycling center in Santa Fe – if they will let me, as I am not a resident down there. Horrible…

    Obama ’08.

  17. David: Ok, that’s it, we’re moving to Taos and are going to start a program with you! And yes, I know about dumping the TVs thing. As illegal and horrendously bad for the environment it is, people still do it. I often wonder if I am the only one around here who recoils in horror whenever I hear or see about recyclables and e-waste going into the garbage.

    And Jack: Ok, guess you don’t know me very well. You know, there’s lots of Texans here in Lake City, and many of them are voting for Obama believe it or not. I’ll betcha some of your friends at Environmental Management are gonna vote for him too! Yeeeee haw!

  18. I am all for the re-cycling bit and was planning to forward your article to my friends in Enviormental Management in Fort Worth, Texas (one of the bigest recycling programs in the southwest) until you threw the word “Obama” in there. Recycling programs are State and local adminstered programs.

  19. Oh it is horrible, isn’t it? Here in Taos, they don’t recycle plastic anything…it all goes in the trash. They say they don’t because of the cost of moving it down the hill, but I have to wonder if they have looked into how much it costs them to have it be in the “regular” trash, and what the difference would be. One of our priorities after moving here is to get plastic recycling to be both accepted and easy to do – neither of which will be easy, as so many people just throw everything – plastic, glass, aluminum, CFL’s, TV’s, etc – right in the trash. Ugh…


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