November 22, 2014
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Going green with the National Geographic

Some things you can’t throw away.

It’s been at least a year since Ted called with an offer and a plea.

“Dad, I have a couple of printers. They work fine and one is wireless, maybe you can use it in the office.”

I knew what he was saying. He couldn’t bear to throw them away. Giving them to me absolved him of the guilt.

He’s not alone. Our house is full of stuff like that. In prior columns, I have mentioned efforts to free ourselves of years of accumulating and how that process can bring back some wonderful memories.

But what things you’re not attached to, yet still have value? Maybe not for you, but for someone else. What about Ted’s printers? What about the cheap boom boxes Carol bought, with the CD players that no longer work? The radios are still perfectly good. What about copies of the National Geographic going back years, that you know you’ll never leaf through again yet can’t part with?

I made the decision to release the National Geographic and the other magazines we get some time ago. I have gotten over my guilt and I feel better. They have a life of nine or 10 months and when the milk crate in the bathroom is about ready to collapse, I initiate a purge.

It’s not easy. There’s always something I haven’t read and I find myself scanning the pages before filling a brown paper bag for the green cart. I know, the green cart for paper and cardboard only is no more, but I can’t mix the work of photographers, editors and reporters I admire with beer bottles, peanut butter jars and plastic jugs. That is sacrilege, and it makes no sense.

It was the first question I had for Rhode Island Resource Recovery when I received the mailer with the refrigerator magnet announcing the mixed recycling program.

“Isn’t it easier for everyone to sort their recyclables instead of going through a mountain at your end?”

The answer defied logic.

“No,” was the response. “The equipment actually works better when it is mixed.”

I found that tough to believe, but Resource Recovery spent close to $17 million on equipment so they must know what they’re doing.

Sensing my skepticism, Resource Recovery told me that “pickers” – imagine that as a job title – are no longer needed and they had been elevated to positions of quality control. I was assured no jobs were lost.

What about those outdated computers with the bulbous monitors replaced by flat screens; and the printers that Ted so thoughtfully gave us? Could they get mixed, too?

No, that’s “e-waste” that requires special treatment.

OK, this recycling machine detects the difference between an empty can of cat food, an aluminum Coors Lite can, my National Geographic and a tub of Better than Butter but has no clue about a Canon printer that still works?

That’s the system.

I went online Saturday to find the eternal resting place for the printers, television and computer monitor. Resource Recovery in Johnston accepts e-waste on weekdays, but not on weekends, unless they are doing a special collection. The website also gave a list of municipalities that receive e-waste. Warwick wasn’t one of them. I read that Goodwill Industries in Providence accepts e-waste 24/7. Even more compelling was the idea that it has partnered with Dell as a “Reconnect” computer-recycling site. It is projected to recycle 300,000 to 400,000 pounds of e-waste annually. I loaded up all our unwanted electronics Saturday and, after a jarring ride down a torn-up Branch Avenue, I arrived at Goodwill. To my surprise, a single TV was the only indication that I was at the right place. I expected a mound of computers, keyboards and boxes. Respectfully, in consideration of the fact they still functioned and that they could serve another life, I tenderly lowered everything into a plastic bin. No one was around. The yard was empty except for several vans. I had the feeling video cameras were recording everything, although I didn’t actually see them.

As for the National Geographic, along with Time, The Smithsonian and the Providence Journal – the work of so many – I kept them unsullied in the green cart. They went out last Monday.

Carol diligently retrieved the cart as soon as it was emptied.

You guessed it, under the new rules, where a recycling cart must be along side your trash cart; the garbage was mine for another week. It makes sense, right?


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