It really IS hard to be green

In Lifestyle on October 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm

The Enemy (AP photo)

One of the hallowed (now my former) rituals in America’s Ukraine (Iowa) is schlepping empty cola cans, beer cans, wine bottles, and liquor bottles back to the mass food retailer where they were purchased full.

Presumably, the “bottle bill” was an effort to prevent public streets being littered with empty containers…leaving plenty of room for discarded McDonald’s bags and 7-Eleven Sooper Slurpee cups.

It takes about four man (or woman) hours of labor to return the cans.  The trip consumes about $8 in gasoline.  Toss in fifteen bucks to the detail guy and $20 to the dry cleaners to get the cola stains out of your car seats and off of your suit and the average Iowan spends about $140 a month to get back a handful of dimes.

Most of them do it for the symbolism of “going green”.  They also dutifully sort used toilet paper from tampons per the edict from the Metro Waste Authority (AKA “garbage men”) and end up throwing tons of food-grade plastic into the trash because it is not a “necked bottle” (most of which come with 5-cent bounty).

[NOTE:  Do not attempt to memorize the list of things they say you can, and cannot, recycle.  You will end up walking in circles, talking to G-d.]

The bottle return task begins with turning a corner of the garage or basement into a stinking mini-landfill for a few weeks whilst collecting enough cans to redeem for the price of a stick of gum.  Next, you load the whole sticky, stinking mess into your car for a windows-down trip to the redemption center.  Then, you dump the whole unsanitary drek-fest into the very same grocery carts people use to bring their food out of the store.

The whole process is a pathogen Disney World.

I know, first hand, that the public toilets in many developing nations are actually cleaner than any empty bottle redemption center.  Inside, your shoes stick to the gummy floor.  Very small people, if not for the kindness of others, would

Photo: "Burkos Murse"

experience the lingering death of a fly trapped on flypaper in one of these places.  You make your way past the carts of others that are, likewise, filled with half-crushed cans having the feel of a not-quite-dry paint job.

Each can and bottle must be carefully, and individually, slid into the grimy machine.  The front of the machine always looks like a half-cleaned up crime scene and a brownish-grey stain spreads slowly at your feet.  The smell is atrocious, but there are few flies.

Flies do not have the stomach for staying.

You slide a few cans or bottles into the machine, using the gymnast-cum-contortionist skills required to flush a comparatively cleaner public toilet with your foot.  After about three cans or bottles, the machine begins to beep frantically.

“DO NOT THROW BOTTLES INTO OPENING”, reads the fingerprint-smudged screen.  You try the bottle again, moving as though you are coaxing a wild bird with food.  You are throwing the bottles into the machine as a measure to avoid touching it.


“Machine full.  Call for attendant.”

Finding a machine attendant is about as easy as getting a doctor to make a house call.  After a (long) while, someone shows up.  They have all of the enthusiasm of someone being led to the gallows.  The sea of stinking carts parts as though before Moses as the attendant pushes (if you can believe) an even smellier bin from behind the machine.  He pushes a button and nods.

You begin gingerly pushing cans back into the machine.


“Store does not accept this brand.”

One of the really “fun” things about recycling in Iowa is that the law specifies that stores must only accept bottles for brands they sell.

You pull the offending can from the machine’s filthy maw.


Everybody sells Coke.

Like a witch doctor offering a virgin to the volcano gods, you timidly push the national brand can into the machine.  If the gods are pleased, your offering will be accepted.  If not, you must make your case to someone at the customer service desk.  The same trek must be made if your offered bottle is a liqueur bottle of an odd shape.

ALL liqueur bottles are oddly shaped.

The worker at the customer service desk eyeballs your offered bottle like a South African diamond appraiser.

“Ummm, like, ummm…we don’t sell this brand.”

“You do not sell Miller Lite?”

“Like, ummm, well…that’s what my scanner says.”

This little game happened to the Phyne Dyner one too many times.  Now, a wiser man, I began stopping in the liquor department (wines are right next to the feminine hygiene spray) and picking up a full container identical to the one I was attempting to return.

“Exhibit A”

“Like, ummmmm, well, like are you sure these are the same.”

The kid in the apron squints at me.  He will have a future with TSA.

“Damn! You caught me.  I have been able to skirt gainful employment for fifteen years by sneaking 5-cent returned bottles past your co-workers.  Nice job!  You will be richly rewarded for your vigilance.”

To avoid this kind of torment, I even tried peddling my empties to a charity that would redeem them for hard cash with which to save whales or “yellow-tailed spotted harpies”.

They did not want the sticky, stinking mess either.

Kermit was right.  It is hard to be green.

As a result, I have joined Mrs. Phyne Dyner in her nefarious bid to pollute the planet.

Before she closed the front door on a kid selling World Wildlife Fund magazines for a school project, I heard her say:

“I absolutely love dolphins.  They taste like chicken.”

She had a hat made out of a spotted owl.

Following her sage conservation advice to “Just throw the bloody things in the bin”, I have begun doing exactly that.

I will, as a result, deep six about two dollars worth of nickel deposits per month.  But I will have gained four hours of free time.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: