Recycling Equals Money and Memories

A lot of people in the blogosphere have noted that frugality and environmentally friendly behavior often go hand in hand. I was thinking the other day about what it was like before recycling became mainstream and not just something for tree-hugging hippies. It used to be about making a little bit of extra money.

I have very vague memories of helping my babysitter return glass soda bottles at the grocery store. More prominent in my memory is recycling aluminum cans. It was the big fundraiser for the Student Council each year when I was in grade school (Catholic elementary). All year long we would save up our cans for the annual drive, and then my dad would help me haul them in on the collection day before he went to work. Then the moderator for the Student Council would haul all of the cans to the Reynolds recycling plant.

For every hundred cans you brought in, you received a voucher for an out-of-uniform day with a maximum of five. Out-of-uniform days were the greatest incentive when I was in school. Furthermore, the homeroom from each grade (there were two per grade) that brought in the most cans got a prize. I seem to remember that some people got to go to a pizza party via limousine at the local Pizza Hut during school time, but I can’t remember if it was the top individual in each home room or the top 10 in the whole school. I never got a pizza party.

Now the most interesting part of the whole thing was that all of the cans had to be crushed. The school pretty much trusted the students not to lie about how many cans they brought in. However, the recycling company didn’t trust that the cans wouldn’t be full of liquid or some sort of something to make each bag weigh more, because the recycling center paid by the weight. So, usually several times throughout the year I would have the job of going outside and smashing cans in the driveway. Often my friends and I would do it as a group, then when it was time to do their cans I would help them out.

We never had one of those fancy can smashers that you crank. We used the old fashion stomping method. You had to be careful to stomp just right or the can would go flying out from under you. Some of the boys would line four cans in a square and do a jumping stomp with both feet. After about an hour of stomping though our feet usually started to ache.

These are memories my children will probably never share for a variety of reasons.  First of all, recycling is a part of everyday life for them, and it’s not just cans and newspapers anymore.  Secondly, recycled cans no longer have to be crushed, just rinsed.  Third, I don’t know if we will ever live in a neighborhood with so many kids for them to do such things with.  I’m afraid this will be one of those nostalgic things that my kids will not be able to fathom, like “walking to school five miles in the snow”.

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