By: Devonya Batiste
It reeks. When my garage door opens, a sickeningly sweet aroma enters my nose. Transparent bags sit squashed on each other like hunchbacked old men, several with brown ooze collecting at the bottom. Old booze mixed in with the remnants of drunken saliva from the lips of weekend regret threatens to tear the bags open. But it doesn’t have to.
Every night Sunday through Thursday I have valet trash and recycling pick up outside of my apartment. Every night Sunday through Thursday I don purple gloves, disheartened by their weekly duty, and I tear open the bags, placing bottle after bottle into a smaller one. And every night Sunday through Thursday when my valet recycling crew collects my booze matter, they must think I attempt to literally drown myself in alcohol or I’m the Queen of Thrashers.
While those last two sentiments are completely true, it has nothing to do with my piles and piles of recycling material that sullenly stares at me every time I enter the garage. The beer bottles, beer cans, alcohol bottles and occasional cardboard box are all from my job, a restaurant downtown. A restaurant that does not recycle. A restaurant that is one of many in this supposedly ever-greening city.
In order to really be able to communicate something, the best way to do so is to experience the difficulties yourself. In other words, it takes a lot of might to be malachite.
The topic of recycling in Austin is a whole different story, but this habit of mine was not self induced. This Fall, Dr. Lucy Atkinson taught a class called “Communicating Sustainability.” For those of us too lazy to enter that into our Google search, it’s basically a class educating students on how to understand and discuss what it means to be environmentally friendly.
Discussing scientific materials can be extremely difficult – especially when everyone’s batshit Great Aunt or Uncle keeps sharing Facebook articles about how Chile invented the polar ice caps and South America doesn’t like the way Chileans dress so they pointed big hair dryers at the ice caps to melt them, which isn’t working, by the way, because ‘global warming isn’t real.’ When one of the greatest world superpowers can elect a person who, against all scientific evidence, says that ‘global warming was invented by the Chinese,’ you know there’s a fucking problem. And that’s why we need professors like Dr. Atkinson to teach the future professionals of the world how to thoughtfully, eloquently and scientifically express the ways in which climate change is happening. However, let’s not fake the funk. In order to really be able to communicate something, the best way to do so is to experience the difficulties yourself. In other words, it takes a lot of might to be malachite.
In her class, Dr. Atkinson asked us to do a self-change project. While us crunchy-hipster-social justice warrior-feminist types all tend to scoff at the opposing side, no one is perfect. So understanding why exactly some people refuse to do green practices is an absolute necessity. We need to be able to calmly and collectively get our point across about the sanctity of our eco system. Each one of us had to choose something green that we don’t already do and do it for six weeks. Having been a waitress downtown for several years, I chose to take it upon myself to recycle everything off of my tables for six weeks.
The very first day I do it, I didn’t double layer my bag and it ripped open. I cursed the heavens both high and low as I held the carcass of a bag once was, alcohol seeping into my socks. Broken glass shards from beer bottles tend to do that. The second day, my coworkers began questioning my habit. I reassured them that I was not homeless and attempting to sell the bottles. However, their query led to others recycling as well. It started a domino effect, and by the end of my six week period, bartenders were saving large bottles for me to recycle. However, the bags became more monstrous over time. Hauling them to my car was a chore and the trunk of my Beetle will forever reek of a hungover person’s nightmare.
By the fourth week or so, on busy nights I was racking up two bags. However, going out of my way during my normal rotation of pretending to care at one table and pretending to care even more at another was difficult. I had to place my makeshift recyclable container out of the way. Guests kept confusing it with typical trash and would sometimes even ash their cigarettes in it. It’s already gross enough as it is.
And yet, the most trying part of the whole process is taking big bags home and having to open them up to put them into smaller bags. My valet crew won’t pick up the trash or recyclables if they don’t fit in the containers provided by the apartment complex. These containers aren’t meant to hold restaurant sized bags. Slowly but surely the egg shell white back wall of my garage became covered with bottles upon bottles of the human attempt to forget bills, divorces, papers, or that one weird dude you slept with.
In short, it’s not an easy task – and it started off bad when old beer juice drizzled into my shoes on the first day. It hasn’t been easy since. I’m not perfect and recycling from my restaurant is the exact opposite of convenience. This very line of thinking and how hard it is to change your current patterns is exactly what Dr. Atkinson was trying to get across. Some people really enjoy grabbing extra napkins to dry their wet hands or use non-reusable water bottles because it’s easier. It will always be more convenient to do things the easy way.
I recognize that being green is hard. It’s expensive. It’s time consuming. It’s worth it.
I weighed my bags and they averaged about 18 pounds. I work around five shifts a week, and that means that one single server possibly throws away around 4,680 pounds of recyclable materials each year. The sheer weight of what I’d been doing for years now haunts me. It makes me question – have I really been green? What other things could I have been changing? Do I even need to give out straws with drinks?
It’s these simple questions that everyone needs to ask themselves, but more often than not, we don’t. If we can’t be completely green and if we can’t make several small changes to minimize our carbon footprint, perhaps we can open a dialogue. Recognizing my own flaws helped me realize that everyone could be greener, but it’s not that simple. It’s not just about throwing your compostable material away when it’s convenient. It’s about making a complete lifestyle change. Communicating matters in this way might help us cross this chasm when addressing people who don’t believe in climate change. Or at least, it’s a start.
As I sit here, mulling over how in the hell I’m going to prevent the smell from getting to me, I recognize that being green is hard. It’s expensive. It’s time consuming. It’s worth it. Acknowledging these difficulties allows us to take one step closer to bringing all political views together. I’m sure we all want to share our Instagram pictures of the Greenbelt to our grandkids so they can visit instead of reminiscing on what once was.