Today I did a bad thing. Well, maybe.

In the trunk of my car I have a huge black garbage bag packed with the empty bottles and cans I save for recycling. It’s mostly filled with glass bottles that have accumulated from my BotW tastings. The bag had gotten quite heavy recently, and I couldn’t remember the last time I emptied it, so a trip to the deposit center was long overdue.

Normally I visit the little rePLANET center at the Ralphs on Golden West and Garfield in the evening after I run. It’s on the way home from my route, and by that time both of the automated collection machines are usually open. I drove there in December before flying back to Iowa, planning to empty the bag and relieve my car of a lot of weight. However, the machines were off and new operating hours were posted on the front. The machines and center were only open during regular business hours for the winter: 10 am to 4 pm.

I was pissed. The new hours meant that the only way I could empty the bag was to visit on Saturday (a nightmare because it’s the day when everyone else deposits and you have to stand in line for an hour) or take time off from work and do it during a weekday. Hmmm… Wait in line, or take off work?

Today I left work early. Don’t worry — there’s no one there to care. I’m basically my own boss, and the editors don’t care when I come and go as long as the work gets done. I got back to my apartment at 2:30 pm, just in time to see the street cleaner maneuver around my car and an HB Parking Nazi swoop in behind it to deliver a $38 ticket. (I hadn’t realized it was the fourth Thursday of the month and didn’t move my car before taking the bus this morning. Note to self: buy a calendar.)

With the parking citation and complimentary envelope riding shotgun, I drove to the rePLANET center at Ralphs. I had never been there during a weekday or when an attendant was present, so I had no clue what to expect. No matter what, I thought, I’m staying and getting rid of this shit. There was a short line of people when I arrived, so I pulled the gargantuan garbage bag from my trunk (the back end rose about three inches), tucked an 18-pack of empty PBR bottles under my arm, and started over to take a place in line.

Before I took two steps a man walking back to his car noticed the 18-pack and warned me, “They’re not taking bottles. It’s full or something.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

It had happened before, but not at this location. At another rePLANET I had noticed a sign outside that read “NO GLASS.” Bins fill and they can no longer take any more aluminum, plastic, or glass, and I understand that. There was nothing I could do but stand there with my huge bag and 18-pack and look like a dumbass.

“Shit!” I blurted. (Later on I realized my dad would have had the same reaction.) “That’s practically all I have. Shit.”

“They’re taking plastic bottles, but not glass,” the man clarified. He was very understanding and friendly with me, and I bet he was a little amused by my language. “I bet it’s the first time you’ve come here and they’ve had a problem like that.”

Of all the fucking days, I thought.

“You try to do the right thing but it’s either that or some other glitch that makes it impossible,” he said.

“I know. I might as well throw it all away.”

As Eric Forman once said — though for a completely different reason — “Naughty thoughts a brewin’.”

Throwing away bottles and cans has never been my thing, especially when I’ve purposely collected them to be recycled for a month or so. But emptying the contents of my gargantuan bag into the alley dumpster at my apartment was a last and desperate option that introduced itself into my conscious. I wanted to get rid of all that stuff, and for the first time I thought it may be acceptable to pitch recyclable material.

Actually, the truth is I do it everyday. At home I put paper and plastic in the trashcan without thinking twice. The reason is because Rainbow Disposal, the company that handles waste management in a number of Orange County communities including Huntington Beach, apparently sorts trash and recycles everything it can. If they do what they say, the paper and plastic I put in the dumpster as garbage is picked out either mechanically or by hand and recycled. Nice.

Sorting out what little plastic and aluminum I had was not an attractive option, so the dumpster alternative was becoming more and more appealing by the second. But before I resorted to drastic and desperate measures I wanted to try the other rePLANET station I knew about, the one that had had the “NO GLASS” sign. I reloaded the gargantuan bag and 18-pack into my trunk (the back end dropped three inches) and drove across town to the other Ralphs. En route I told myself I would only throw everything away if I were reduced to it, if the second station was full. Sure enough, I got there and the attendant was telling everyone “No more glass.”

Fuck. That was it: the whole bag was getting dumped. As I drove back to my apartment I couldn’t tell who or what I was angrier at: myself or Southern California’s dearth of proper and efficient recycling centers. On my way I tried reasoning through it, tried to convince myself to hold on to the bottles and cans until next week, or bite the bullet and go on Saturday. But I didn’t want to. I was emptying that bag no matter what and had decided to dump it to spite Orange County. If they sort it out, good; if it goes to the landfill, they fucking asked for it. When a gated community is built on top of the clay cap and people start getting sick, don’t look at me.

I backed up to the dumpster next to my building, opened one of the lids, and pulled out the bag once again (and the back end rose three inches, again). I lifted it over the side, the bottles and cans rattling, and tipped it over in stages (it was heavy as hell). The metal dumpster was completely empty, and the avalanche of glass produced a deafening dissonance. When I pulled the bag out (I reuse it, of course) I looked at the labels in the pile and tried to figure out how long it had been since I last emptied it. I noticed the can of Foster’s Premium Ale I drank the week of my birthday in October, and judged I’d been collecting that load since before then. Next I dropped in the 18 fallen soldiers of PBR, and finally the cardboard PBR case.

I felt sick. Though Rainbow may actually sort out the bottles and cans for recycling, I still felt like I had done a bad thing. I had chastised my old roommate for putting empties in the trash and there I was dumping a load of recyclables (those that can be redeemed for cash, at least) into the garbage. Despicable.

I got in my car, my figurative tail between my legs, and parked on the side of the street that the sweeper cleaned yesterday.


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