When I looked out the kitchen window into the twilight and saw my 60-year-old husband hunched over our new recycling bin, a pang of worry crossed over me. Were long, cold days out delivering the mail taking a toll on him?
I headed out the back door, but he had already turned toward the house -- head down, in thought. "Just reading the instructions on the recycling bin," he explained.
It's doubtful the city of Minneapolis considered the unintended consequences of the new, no-sort recycling program that it is rolling out in stages. Certainly, no-sort will increase the volume of recyclers and decrease our city's garbage output. But we are not Oakland, New York or Memphis. We are Minneapolis -- a city settled by Scandinavians and Germans, whose traditions are to this day steeped in a profound need to organize.
Think about our streets, so precisely ordered alphabetically or numerically. Our bike and walk paths, carefully divided and designated. The even/odd day snowplow system. And until this week in parts of the city, the sorted recycling program.
And so it is in our home -- a well-thought-out system that creates order while benefiting our environment. Our roles are clear: My husband manages the household recycling program while I play the part of eye-roller and irritant. The rules include: All bottles and cans must be scrubbed (with soap), labels removed.
Unfortunately for him, he's married to a Jewish woman from Chicago whose traditions oppose his sensibilities: Rules invite argument, disdain and occasional refusal. Out of respect and love, I do wash the cans, though I cannot bring myself to remove the labels -- it's just too much.
We're well-matched, though. I like to rebel, while he likes to peel the labels and call it a job well-done.
He's got his upstairs presorting stations, the basement holding center and the garage prefinal staging area. Each day he picks through the kitchen recycling bin -- shiny paper/magazines, metal, glass, brown paper bags, cardboard to break down, all headed to the basement dividers; plastic by the back door to be taken out to the garage prefinal staging area, and newspapers into paper bags.
Every two weeks, he patiently waits for me to finish the Sunday paper so he can bring his final load out to the alley. Next to the garbage can, he stations the red and green bins, still looking new, having seen the light of day only on recycling days.
Being Norwegian, he would feel awkward receiving awards or recognition. He takes satisfaction in his efforts and believes the recycling collectors appreciate and admire the care he takes. While he understands progress and the greater good no-sort recycling brings, the city should have considered the unintended effects this new program would impose on its citizens.
This morning he looked a little disappointed -- a bag of newspapers in one hand, glass bottles in the other.
"What am I supposed to do?" he wondered out loud, "just throw it all in one bin?"
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Sybil Axner lives in Minneapolis.