Published in the Chapel Hill Herald Sun
Nov 2005

I Got a Ticket For Bringing my Recyclables to the Orange County Recycle Center

People that take the time out to recycle are doing the right thing.  They’re on the right track – well, not as close as several Scandinavian countries that use methane from (trash) and wind energy to run entire sub-populations (i.e. thousands of households) on a green energy grid.  Now that’s something right entirely.

I recycle.  I take my Coke cans, plastic juice bottles, tuna cans, any even empty Worchester Sauce bottles and cram them all in the dishwasher so that I can store them all in their proper boxes hygienically until they’re full.  Then I transfer the glass, plastic, and cans in large plastic trash bags and stick them all outside in the corner on the front porch.  After a few weeks it’s time to load them all up in the back of my truck and take a trip out to the recycling center. 

Think how much easier it would be to just throw the stuff out with the regular trash and forgo the  nitpicking, time consuming process of sanitization, sorting, and a long haul out to the Orange County Recycling Center off Highway 57. 

But no, you’ve got to make an effort.  You’ve got to try and do your part to keep the earth healthy, even though it’s hard to find a lot of products packaged in recyclable materials. 

So I venture out one Wednesday afternoon to the Orange County Recycling Center .  Alas, the huge entry gates are chained shut.  It happens that on a haphazard day in the middle of the week, this place and all of their other centers are closed, but opened every other day of the week.  In good faith, I unload my bags anyways, and pile them up neatly against the gate, on the Recycling Center property, and know that I am doing the right thing;  my recyclables are properly sorted and clean, and the person that works there in the morning will be able to easily place them in their required bins.  They are, after all, employed there, with the help of our Orange County Taxes.  Had the doors been opened, I would have gladly entered, placed the recyclables in the dumpsters myself, and been on my merry way.  Like a rational human being I made this exception and relied on my fellow citizen to do their part, their job, because I had done mine. 

Instead, the next morning I receive a phone call from the police.  It seems the disgruntled Orange County Recycling Center has called the law and demanded justice from this atrocious “littering”.  I am accused of a criminal action, littering, and fined a ticket.  They are going to come to my house later and serve me the papers.  I’m assuming they had found my name and address in my organized bags and hunted me, the culprit, down so that I could be punished.  But why did that employee not just do his job?  What prompted him to sufferingly call the police for six tightly closed bags leaning against the gates and lament about “littering” AT the recycling center? 

I explained everything to the police officer over the phone.  “We’ve had a big problem with this lately.”  he replied. “Well doesn’t that tell you something then?  If there had been bins out front I would have put them in there.  If the gates were open, I would have placed my recyclables inside.”  He paused.  “Oh, so you think it’s their fault then.”  I said, “What?  No.” 

My thoughts are if you’re going to do something, do it right.  Go big or stay at home (which is what I guess I’ll be doing from now on).  I guess it was assumed that “Ah-ha – we knew we could lure them in, those prone-to, closet-litter bugs who are inexorably drawn to recycling centers to commit heinous acts against our county - of deliberately littering AT landfill/recycle centers!”    

I will have to pay the fine to Orange County .  But, I ask you this.  Pick one for this particular case:  positive or negative reinforcement?  Do you think Lauren is A) going to continue recycling  B) use this Recycling Center or go anywhere near it again?  And that’s from a woman who actually cared prior to this.  People that don’t recycle don’t get tickets.  People that do make the effort and refuse to follow the least path of resistance in life and care about things get rewarded by fines and tickets.  At least in Orange County .

Writer Lauren Knapp-Resnik and husband have been residents and land owners in Hillsborough , NC for the past 11 months.