Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tally of items collected in October 2008

I've been picking up recyclables for a long time, but October 2008 is the first month I kept a record of all the recyclables I picked up. I went through quickly just now creating a tally of what I collected during the 31 days of October. I hope it's correct. My eyes glazed over several times while adding up the numbers, and I didn't double check them. Anyway, here's what I came up with:


  • 29 aluminum cans (23 beer, 1 malt liquor, 1 lemonade, 4 soda)
  • 26 glass bottles (22 alcoholic, 4 non-alcoholic)
  • 70 plastic bottles (44 plain water, 24 other, 2 unknown)
  • 3 other recyclables (1 brown paper bag, 1 torn plastic bag, 1 cardboard wrapper)


  • 7 carrier bags large enough to use as trash bags (see note below regarding number)
  • 12 small plastic bags of a size suitable for dog waste
  • 9 rubber bands
  • 9 other reusables (3 twist ties, 2 paper clips, 2 blue pens, 1 Sharpie marker, 1 wire coat hanger)


  • 1 plastic Coca-Cola bottle so mangled that it was beyond my ability to remove the mud from it
  • 1 set of plastic rings from around a 6-pack (cut into strips before going in the trash)
  • 3 plastic bags too torn to be used that couldn't be recycled because they lacked resin numbers
  • 1 dead pen
I'm surprised by some of the numbers. I hadn't realized that almost all the aluminum cans I pick up are beer cans. I had thought I picked up more diet soda cans. Similarly, I hadn't realized just how few glass bottles contained non-alcoholic beverages.

I'm not surprised by the statistics on plastic bottles. I knew there were a lot of them, and that although more than half of them contained plain water there were also many containing soda, Gatorade, or other beverages.

I have mixed feelings about whether picking up recyclables is worth the effort. On the one hand, I think it's great that there are 125 fewer bottles and cans littering the streets and river. On the other hand, most of what I picked up was plastic, and plastic simply isn't recyclable the way aluminum and glass are. I wonder what will happen to the plastic bottles I picked up, and whether they'll simply end up polluting someone else's community instead of my own.

One thing I do feel positive about is the number of plastic bags I picked up and made use of. It feels good not needing to buy trash bags. I'm pretty sure I picked up significantly more than the 7 carrier bags listed in the tally above, and failed to make note of some of them because I put them straight in the bag I carry with me everywhere. It always contains multiple plastic bags, so it's easy to lose sight of additional bags. What I know for certain is that my stockpile of carrier bags is huge and continues to grow each month.

As the weather becomes colder, I expect to ride the bus more and walk less, which will mean collecting fewer recyclables. I doubt the tallies for November, December, January or February will reach 100. With growing media attention to the problems of single-use plastic bottles, I hope that by next summer there will be fewer people tossing their empty water bottles on the ground, and that even in summer I'll continue to find less than 100 recyclables per month. Only time will tell.

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