It probably would sound more honorable if I said I recycle because I'm trying to help the planet stay green. But the deep, dark truth is redeeming bottles and cans in those automated vending machines reminds me of playing nickel slots. And the coolest part - you never lose your money.
Now I'm not a compulsive gambler, as a matter of fact, I hate it. But there's something addictive about watching the machine swallow your glass bottle and hearing it smash or taking your can and hearing it crunch. It's like all the fun and no pain.
No pain, if you don't mind waiting in line behind all those Redemption-as-a-career folks. They're always there with industrial garbage bags filled to the brim. They are courteous for the most part but some of the Lifers can be downright cut-throat. This old Chinese woman literally crashed her shopping cart into mine so she could get ahead of me. She had like a thousand bottles compared to my 40-some-odd empties but whatever. As they say, age before beauty (right, ha, ha, ha).
As Karma would have it - she couldn't even start because the janitor came to shut down the machine as the bin was too full. I could tell by the look on his face that he was going to take a nap before replacing the collection bin - so I went home and let the old Chinese lady wait there until her New Year. Booyakasha!
I'm not a Lifer but my Recyclable Redemption Habit started like this. We used to put our recyclables in the designated blue bin in front of our house as we went. The Redeemers-as-a-career folks would walk the streets, scrounge through our front patio and take what they wanted. They were always respectful of our privacy, so no harm done.
But then they started taking our recyclable bags and sometimes the garbage bag to haul their loot - leaving our trash on the floor or worst yet, mixed with the other trash so we'd be susceptible to fines. Not cool.
So we designated the recycle bin to go out only on Friday evening. And one day, a small group of Peruvian women with small children in tow, came up to our house asking if they can sort through our recyclables. My boys asked me what it was all about and I thought, enough is enough.
I decided to bring the empties to the redemption centers and get rid of them myself. After all, it's our garbage - it's our responsibility, right? Maybe our five cents here and there might have helped some folks but in the long run, you can't feed the world with garbage although McDonald's sure tries hard.
So, the first time, I bumped into one of the Peruvian grandmothers I once handed our empties to. She didn't say hello, she just gave me the "Evil Eye." I felt guilty but two-dollars and ten-cents later, I didn't feel so bad for what I'd done. And really, why should I?
It was our money. We paid the five-cent deposit in the first place! I mean, isn't that the point? Yes, it was pocket change but it felt like more because I did something good for the planet to boot.
Still, I told my mother what I did as if I were confessing a sin. I told my husband what I did as if I had robbed a bank. They both gave me one of those smiles that was half-shocked and amused. My mom phrased something in Japanese and asked if I knew what it meant.
Judging by the way she said it, I guessed. "Shameless?"
She asked a friend to translate. "Frowned upon."
Guess it was best to keep this deed to myself. So I silently kept on and stashed the money in a jar. When I bitched to my husband about rinsing out the bottles and cans he snorted, "You and your recycling."
"Oh yeah?" I said, "Let's check the jar!"
Lo and behold! It's got thirty-dollars in it.
He stopped snorting. My mom stopped frowning. The old Peruvian grandma started smiling at me now - she sees me so often.
As for me...I'm just waiting for the day I get a complimentary drink while I'm redeeming nickel slots - uh, I mean cans.