After five years of living in the same house, I finally met the man who drives the recycling truck in my West Virginian town of 17,000. It's been six months since I read Pope Francis encyclical on the environment, Laudato si' with my parish priest. I've run 3 environmental conferences since that night, given six public talks, and enjoyed warm hugs from members of the Sierra Club.
It still took me 5 years to get my act together enough to put our our glass jars and aluminum cans on our front sidewalk on the right day of the month.
"I'm too busy" was the excuse inside my head. In my defense, we do have 3 kids under age 6 and kitchen space is a premium inside our tiny 1950 cape cod that currently sleeps 8.
Yet there were jobs that I wanted to do to save the environment, and there were jobs that I didn't want to do. I was picking and choosing my role. I'd buy LED lightbulbs. I'd happily talk to Appalachian geologists on the phone for hours. But I didn't want to stand still and wash icky glass spaghetti jars for hours in my kitchen.
Along comes Pope Francis, with his gentle leadership, and he insists that being a good manager of the earth's resources is an essential part of being a good Christian. It wasn't enough that cook dinner for my family every night. I needed to be responsible for the our trash also.
So I stepped out in my good resolutions and ran into a confusing loophole of poor public information. Have you ever read Joseph Heller's Catch-22? Read it. If your community has clear recycling rules, then they still have other environmental regs that are a mess. Maybe its unclear how to dispose of cellphone batteries or test for lead in your kitchen faucet or figure out the daily electrical needs of your old water heater. Somehow when science and law get mixed together, pandamona can ensue.
Then one day, I put out the recyclables out on the curb on the right day of a 14 day period. The recycling truck stoped at my house at 10 AM and an elderly man got out. He stopped at our curb and stared at the two boxes in front of him.
I stopped teaching school and walked out the front door. "Did I do it wrong?" I called out from our steps.
The man's grimace turned into a true Southern Smile. "Yes, but I'll fix it for you."
"No, wait a second,"I sait as he picked up the box and turned away from me. "Can you take a moment and explain how it is supposed to be? I can do it better next time."
I stood on my cold sidewalk in my bare feet and I learned how my specific community wants to have their recyclables sorted. It wasn't how I did it in Gaithersburg, MD. It wasn't how I did it in Madison, WI. The man told me things that didn't show up clearly on any public info brochure that I'd picked up in City Hall.
My city had a method. I had to learn it.
It turns out it's so easy being green. It only takes humility.