I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to know a thing or two about garbage.
People put their garbage cans out by the road each week on garbage-pickup day. (Where I live, on Planet Outer Linebrook, garbage-pickup day is Thursday.) Under the law, Ipswich will only take one garbage can-full of garbage from you per week. If you have more garbage, you have to buy shame-bags.
They’re not officially called shame-bags, but this is how they function. You put your overflow garbage, the garbage that won’t fit into your single legal garbage can, into the shame-bags, and set them out by the road on garbage-pickup day, and everyone driving by sees all too clearly that you’re a wasteful glutton, with no regard for the environment, that you’re only too happy to clog the nation’s landfills and burn new holes in the ozone layer, and you don’t give a rip about your carbon footprint. You probably also don’t bother to recycle or compost. Do you kick your cat, too? It’s likely. All of these insights, your neighbors derive from the simple fact that you had to put a shame-bag in front of your house on garbage-pickup day.
I am so terrified of the messages I’ll send if I put a shame-bag by the road on Thursday morning that I have become manic about recycling and composting.
In order to make sure I get the recycling part right, I have a framed copy of the official “Ipswich Recycles” Rules and Regulations mounted under a spotlight in a place of honor in my kitchen. This is a document that tries to be cheery — printed in pleasant blue and green, and featuring a smiling cartoon clam blithely bubbling in the center of a soothing circular recycling symbol — but there’s still an intimidating aspect to any message that employs so much boldface type and STERN WORDS IN ALL CAPS, like the headline “SINGLE-USE PLASTIC BAG and POLYSTYRENE BANS” and the very strict admonition “NO Styrofoam or other #6 plastics, thin-film plastics or plastic bags of any kind.”
Recycling is free in Ipswich, and technically, it’s “unlimited.” You can recycle as much stuff as you want to, every single week, on garbage-pickup day. You can recycle mountains of cereal boxes and towers of newspapers and more wine bottles than you could possibly consume the contents of.
But recycling is still tricky. In some of the fine print, you’ll discover that the “unlimited” recycling plastic is actually, well, limited. You can’t mindlessly recycle just any plastic.
“PLASTIC BAGS and PLASTIC FILM — Do not put in your recycle bin,” the authorities warn. They’re talking about water bottle cases, paper towel wrap, and that filmy, environment-unfriendly stuff they shrink-wrap your supposedly environment-friendly organic vegetables with. This stuff can’t go in your Ipswich curbside recycling; you have to take it to the big box inside the door at Market Basket, or some similar depository at Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Target, Lowe’s, or Kohl’s. According to the rules, you also have to “Remove tape, labels or adhesive strips (NO pre-washed salad bags, frozen food bags, candy wrappers or pet food bags or material that has been painted or glued).” Those little labels they stick to each and every red bell pepper in the grocery store? You have to peel those off. The pepper guts can go into composting (composting is a different story altogether), but the little individual pepper labels have to go with the special not-actually-unlimited plastic recycling stuff.
Committed to total obedience, I have a separate bag (made of damnable plastic) hanging in my kitchen pantry, where I stuff all the plastics that can’t be recycled with all the other plastics; and once every few weeks, I head out with my plastic booty to a designated recycling site, feeling full of pride: I am recycling! And doing it properly! And it isn’t easy!
Garbage isn’t just garbage. It’s a lifestyle. To be a truly responsible citizen, you have to set aside extra time in the preparation of every meal, the consumption of every snack, to be sure about the correct placement of all the stuff that doesn’t go into your mouth. When the UPS man comes, you need to have a strategy ready for processing whatever packaging your package is packaged in.
It’s complicated, yes. But it’s worth it. At the end of my life, I want to know that I did right by the environment. I hope to live to be 100 — which is to say, 86.6 years of actual life, and 13.4 years of sorting my waste products.
In fact, when I die, just wrap me in back issues of the Ipswich Chronicle, slide me into a refrigerator box, and stand me up by the side of the road on a Thursday morning.
Wait — first, remove all labels.