ESSAY- Recycling confessions: Why my body isn't graveyard-bound


I hate recycling. So, let's get it over with: stone me or burn me at the stake or do whatever you do to a heretic nowadays. But I can't be bothered with analyzing, categorizing, and compartmentalizing each piece of trash when it's time to toss it.

I do like the idea of recycling, but I don't want to be the one who does it. I don't want an array of recycling bins cluttering up my house and I don't want to have to stop and ponder exactly where I should place every scrap of trash as I hold it in my hand. I just want to be rid of it. 

Single-stream recycling, where you lump everything together, and a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption sorts it for you, now that's my kind of recycling. In fact, it's a dream come true for someone as lazy as I am.

Predictably, because opposites attract, I married a man who has raised recycling to the level of religious practice, and he will not hear of commingling our trash. It must remain sorted: pure and unsullied by contaminants from any other category.

Even though we in Central Virginia have been blessed by the recent opening of a single-stream trash recycling facility in Fork Union– and I'm confident that we could hire someone to haul away our trash, and we wouldn't have to sort anything– my husband is adamantly opposed to doing so. 

Harry lovingly tends to our household trash and sees to it that we separate our disposables into no less than 10 categories.

We have separate receptacles for newspaper, unusable plain paper, plain paper that he can recycle through his printer at work, flat cardboard, corrugated cardboard, metal & glass, plastic, non-recyclable trash, compostables, and even, God help us, a special place for corks. 

And if I (as I so often do) toss, say, an empty jelly jar into the regular, non-recyclable trash can, I'll hear a gasp and know that Harry will immediately retrieve the precious recyclable and make sure it finds its proper home in the glass bin. 

When he comes home from work, he checks the trash can for evidence of sins I've committed in his absence.

One Saturday morning, when I accompanied him to the McIntire Road Recycling Center, I finally understood the religious zeal my husband brings to this task.

Bear in mind that I knew Harry back when he was an altar boy in our childhood church. As an adult, he has left the Catholic Church in favor of the far simpler practice of Quakerism. 

Apparently, you can take the husband out of Catholicism, but you can't take the Catholicism out of the husband.

Among Catholics, there is a practice known as doing the Stations of the Cross, wherein the faithful meditate upon the major scenes of Christ's crucifixion at an approximate replica of the sacred site in Jerusalem. 

Many years ago, I witnessed pilgrims at a hillside shrine making their way to each of the 14 stations, from Christ's condemnation to his tomb. My most vivid memory is of a woman climbing the flight of stone stairs to one station on her knees.

As I sat in the car that day, I watched as the faithful recyclers hauled their heavy loads up the stairs to the top of each dumpster and added them to the other donations, including glassware to become, presumably, sparkling new bottles, and plastics on the path to becoming someone's new lawn chair or tote bag. 

Thus, all consumer sins are not merely washed away through these communal fonts, but are on the verge of being transformed into a new creation. 

That's when it hit me: My husband and his fellow congregants were doing the Stations of the Trash.

I looked around at the bumper stickers on the recyclers' vehicles. Of course, I've seen these socially conscious stickers before, just not so many in one parking lot. There were proclamations such as, "If you want peace, work for justice" and "Think globally, act locally." 

Obviously, these are people who not only want the world to be a better place, they want to be the ones to make it happen– bless their hearts. 

But I don't have to tell you that, here in Charlottesville, responsible recyclers hugely outnumber heretical slackers like me. 

So, whether you stone me or give me the Joan of Arc treatment for my rejection of hands-on recycling, make my husband happy and recycle me.

Because a graveyard is, after all, just another kind of landfill.


The Free Union-based author will recycle most anything– except for someone else's story.



Janis is a talented and often whimsical writer, yet this submission is an admission of a slipshod, irresponsible attitude. Unfortunately, Janis is not alone when coming to terms with refuse. She, like many residents of Albemarle County, assumes that garbage "just disappears" at curbside. Clearly Janis does not take responsibility for what she deposits on the planet. Words are often disposed without toxic consequences, yet tons of disposable packaging will remain on this planet for a thousand years. Thank goodness Janis has an enabling husband who compensates for her shoddiness. I hope that he plans to cremate her "remains" and fertilize his garden. Now that is the ultimate in recycling!

@Kirsten: Point well MISSED!