Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Closing the Loop

Ever since my friend Kevin's pooch suffered an injury from broken glass, I've been noticing all the discarded bottles up and down our sidewalks. Not that you can miss them. Tastes seem to run toward Michelob, Heineken, and Corona, with an occasional Stella Artois thrown in for good measure. Sometimes you find them broken to bits, sometimes as a full
pack of empties still in their cardboard containers.

And the whole thing begs the question: what ever happened to good old-fashioned deposit laws?! Ok, I know what happened to them: the Keep America Beautiful campaign, which shifted the responsibility for litter from manufacturers to the humble individual. That, and a little Capitalist invention called the plastics industry, which successfully shifted bottling norms in one hideous, unsustainable paradigm shift. Not for beer, fair enough, but with the ascension of plastic for beverage packaging, bottle refunds went the way of the dodo bird.

But seriously, isn't it time to bring them back? Can't we learn a little something from our neighbors in Maine, Oregon, and Iowa (how I love thee, Iowa), which never let go of the practice and are the better for it?

The funny thing is: you almost never see discarded cans around here. Why? Because there's still money to made from aluminum cans. There's an entire subculture of scavengers who stake out territories and go through the trash, just to find that uniquely precious metal. We have our favorite of the gleaners--a stooped older woman who literally wears a babushka--and we pre-sort and flatten our cans so she doesn't need to bother with the dumpsters.

Clean sidewalks, recycled materials, money in the pockets of those who need it, reduced canine injury. A perfect prescription for 'the greenest city in America.'

And yet, here we are . . .


tracy said...

I feel your pain, sister! (and the poor pooch's pain--youch!)

Oddly, this problem isn't specific to urban areas, and we marvel constantly when we're out for walks how people who LIVE in the country insist on using the entire rural road system as a dump. The rural folks' pastoral connection to the land is largely a myth.

We have more cans, plastic pop bottles, and fast food trash, though, so the problem is sort of tangential to yours. The upside: many people throw full cans of (still cold) beer on the side of the road, on a regular basis. I think I need to write a blogpost about the bounty of "ditch beer"!

Christy said...

A 'ditch beer' sounds mighty fine right about now!

(It's actually heartening to know this isn't specific to our neighborhood. Sometimes I walk through other areas with such envy over their clean sidewalks; it's better to feel in good company) :-)

Leslie said...

My friend Brett has taken to pulling over when he finds trash along his rural Tonganoxie roads. Sometimes he finds an incriminating name. He then calls them or pays them a visit to return the stuff they "lost."

Lynn Stevens said...

I wouldn't blame it on the Keep America Beautiful campaign, but squarely with the beverage manufacturers or bottlers and the grocery stores (they do have to do some retrofitting to accommodate bottle returns, but it's pretty automated now).

Michigan has had a bottle law since the Keep America Beautiful campaign and you just don't see bottles and cans as trash.

There was a proposed Chicago "bottle bill" 15 years (or so) back. Mayor Daley opposed it. There was a heavy industry financed ad campaign against it. I particularly remember the argument that the "little old lady" would have to lug her bottles to the store.

Christy said...

Welcome, Lynn.

There's a great chapter in 'Gone Tomorrow' by Heather Rodgers that was a real eye-opener for me on the Keep America Beautiful campaign. It's a great read otherwise as well. Highly recommended!