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When in doubt, don't throw it out: You've got to green your garbage
By Marni Jameson
Posted: 04/03/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT
What would we parents do without our kids to teach us right from wrong?
The other day, after I'd changed the dead batteries in my ultrasonic jewelry cleaner, one of my high-minded teenagers came to me holding the two expired AAs I'd tossed.
"Are you responsible for this?" she asked under raised, disapproving eyebrows.
"Uhh. Err." I thought she was going to revoke my cellphone privileges.
"You can't just toss batteries in the trash!"
"What on earth am I supposed to do with them?"
"You have to turn them in!"
"Like responsible citizens!"
What are they teaching kids in school these days?
After that slapdown, I should have expected the next green outburst. Our family had just had some roaring fun cleaning the garage. The driveway now had two heaps: donate and dump. In the dump pile were many expired computers and obsolete electronics.
"You're not planning to just toss those?" asked one righteous voice.
"Mom! They'll pollute our landfills, waterways and food supply," said her accomplice. "They'll decompose and give children cancer."
I looked at my husband, a quiet man of reason. He nodded.
"I appreciate everyone's environmental sensitivity here," I said, "but who's going to get stuck holding the trash bag?"
Quiet, pointed stares.
"Oh, all right," I said.
Once again, doing the right thing proved terribly inconvenient. Our waste-management service's next hazardous-waste drop- off day wasn't for months. I didn't want to wait. So I put the electronic junk in the back of our pickup truck and waited for an environmentally correct solution to present itself.
Next thing, the truck became my primary mode of transportation. It's difficult to look like a lady when you drive a pickup loaded with old electronics. But no one else in my family would be caught dead driving it: "I can't drive that to work!"
"I can't drive that to school!"
"So I have to look like a redneck?"
More pointed stares.
Weeks passed. Because I couldn't go through a carwash with these darned machines in back, the truck grew filthy. I had visions of finding it wrapped in biohazard tape and surrounded with radioactive quarantine signs. By now, I'd degenerated from lady to redneck to hillbilly hick.
I had mafia-like thoughts. Maybe in the dead of night, I could sneak behind a strip mall and toss the electronics in a Dumpster, or sink them in some lake? (You judge me, but tell me you've never had such thoughts.) Then I thought about what was on those hard drives: my name, address, and unflattering photos that would likely circulate the Internet after the trash police took me away in handcuffs. And that just wouldn't look good for a home- design columnist.
And I heard my kids' voices: "You'll give children cancer!"
Seeing that I was not handling the matter swiftly, my daughters got the name of an e-waste recycling company from their environmentally correct science teacher. (Thank you, Mrs. Hund.) I called the company, which agreed to responsibly dump the trash in my truck. I told the person on the phone what I had: a printer, fax machine, two computers, an old phone, one monitor, a DVD player, a receiver, and lots of cables and chargers to who knows what. She told me what each item cost to toss.
"Wait!? I have to PAY to throw my stuff out?"
That night over dinner, I told my kids that the environmentalists had gone too far.
"They want 50 bucks to throw away what I can throw away for free!"
When I could no longer stand the guilt, embarrassment or filth, I drove the truck to Metech Recycling, an environmentally responsible recycler of electronic waste with eight locations in six states. There, an efficient woman wearing big green glasses like submarine windows sized up my deposit, and handed me a bill for $44. Then two strapping men unloaded the contents onto a dock. I drove away with a dirty truck and a clean conscience, thinking: kids.
They sure know how to make a grown-up out of you.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of the just released "House of Havoc," and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press). Contact her through marnijameson.com.
It's getting harder to throw stuff away these days ? especially if you have enlightened kids. Here, according to waste-management experts, is what you should know before you throw:
Be mindful of e-waste. It's a growing problem as more electronic devices become obsolete. If thrown in landfills, these items ? computers, electronic gadgets, appliances ? can release lead, mercury and other toxic waste into our environment. When discarding them, look for companies that break items down to base materials (plastic, glass, metal), which they then recycle responsibly.
Try to sell before you pay. Companies like buymytronics.com will sometimes buy your dead electronics, including iPods and cameras, which beats paying someone to take them.
Let old phones reach out to others. When retiring an old cellphone, give it to a cellphone supplier. Companies like Verizon and Sprint will clear your old phone of contact information, then donate it to soldiers or domestic-violence victims.
Watch for hazardous waste round-up days. Check your city's waste-management service for scheduled toxic-waste round-ups, when you can safely dispose of oil-based paints, petroleum products, batteries, pesticides, antifreeze and other hazardous materials. Or organize one in your neighborhood. Some services will come to you if you arrange it.