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OPINION: I’m Obsessed with Trash

Everyone should cultivate good habits when it comes to recycling.

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Dear Richmond,

You are amazing. You give us the Virginia Museum Fine Arts, Maymont, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Sub Rosa Bakery, Belle Isle, the Byrd Theatre and so many other cultural gifts.

But we need to talk.

I walk in Carytown and see the sidewalk trash cans overflowing with coffee cups, plastic bottles, cupcake boxes and packaging materials. You see, I’m allergic to trash and obsessed with it and think about it all the time. I realize this is completely abnormal but it seems the time is right to confess my weirdness. As proof, when I first laid eyes on the Keurig coffee machine, my immediate feeling was distress over all the single-use pods that would be generated. It’s just the way I was born and over time my trash obsession has become worse, or better, depending on how you look at things.

Just be glad you’re not one of my children. They could tell you of trash audits and embarrassing moments in restaurants where I tried to reject extra packaging or takeout containers. One of my favorite moments was when the RVA Environmental Film Festival was going on and I spied a fellow board member gingerly picking aluminum cans from the top of an overflowing trash can near the Byrd Theatre. A gentleman dressed nattily in college garb looked down his nose at the scene. I couldn’t have been more proud. Everyone has proud trash moments, right?

There are articles popping up everywhere about the problems of recycling contamination and China’s refusal to accept our feeble attempts to save plastics and mixed paper from the landfill. There was an article in Style, and then an article in Sierra Magazine within days of each other. This refusal of our recyclables has been going on since January 2018 but its mainstreamness is only coming to the local news now. I would love to see my fellow Richmonders embrace the bring-your-own everything mentality to help keep the trash down. OK? OK.

Let’s start with refusal. No thank you for the plastic bag, straw, utensil or coffee cup. Bring your own bags to the grocery store and even to the fancy boutique. I promise you they will be impressed. I have to remember to forget my reusable bags if I need paper ones, as it is such an ingrained habit now. Place the reusable bags on your car seat, dashboard or lap until it becomes routine. Then look around your living space for a case to use as a utensil holder for an extra fork, spoon and straw. Place these in your car or bag, and carry them with you. Reuse containers you already have to buy bulk in your local grocery store. If it doesn’t offer you a tare weight for your container, ask the store if it would consider starting the practice. Tare is the weight of the container deducted from the total weight of what you buy. I tried this at a major chain grocery store once and clearly the cashier had no idea what I was asking, but she dutifully faked it. I’m not sure what I was charged for, but I didn’t gain another plastic container, so it was a win.

We also need to be more diligent about our recycling practices.

I recently marked off a bucket list item by touring the TFC Recycling Center in Chester. I was so excited, you know, like a kid going to Disney World. When I arrived and saw the mountains of recyclable materials, I felt like I was in a real life documentary film about waste streams. I’ve been asked, “Well, do they really recycle all that stuff?” The answer is yes, recyclers do, and they need our clean and well-cared-for recycled materials to continue to operate the business.

The better job we do, the better they can do their job and find markets for mixed paper, aluminum cans, cardboard, newspaper, cartons, glass and plastics. But there are rules to be followed and some items are not helpful to their machines and people who must separate our disposables. Plastic bags do not belong in the recycling bins and get caught on the equipment. The bins at the local grocery stores are best for these along with other clean plastic packaging. The operative word here is clean.

Ask questions and inquire about recycling rules. The more people make thoughtful inquiries, the more companies will realize we care about using less and processing our waste. My favorite trash can is right outside of Sub Rosa on Jefferson Avenue. You may have seen me taking photos of it when you rode by in your car. Everyone has a favorite trash can, right? No? See, I told you I was obsessed with trash.

But truthfully, I would like to be obsessed with empty trash cans.

Dawn Williamson is a board member of the RVA Environmental Film Festival and runs the film selection committee. The group presents its 10th annual festival Feb. 7-13, 2020. The festival is free and open to the public. Visit rvaeef.org as well as its Facebook and Instagram pages for information.

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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