Recyclers Anonymous

My name is Bill W., and I am a recycler. Like many Americans, I started innocently in the '70s, stacking newspapers in a corner. But now, decades later, I have huge bags full of plastic, tin, glass and yes, even magazines, stored in a space originally designed for two cars. (Please don't tell anyone I throw away magazines.)

Of course, my wife and I couldn't continue living like this, having to maneuver through stacks of cardboard and bags of empty Diet Coke cans just to reach the lawn mower. So at least once a month, or before company comes over, my family fills up the Pathfinder and heads to one of the few places in Atlanta that accept our recyclables menagerie.

I want you to know that my wife is to blame for this addiction. I remember it starting right after I began my first job and we had enough money to actually have things to throw away. "No, don't put it in there," she said, as I began to pitch the newspaper in the garbage can. "We can recycle that."

We can recycle that ... sounds so innocent, yet it is tinged with guilt and even shame. Gradually — in fact I don't even remember it happening — we began washing out tin cans and wine bottles. Even the food scraps that survived us, the kids and the Labrador Retriever were buried in the garden for composting.

With a twist of irony, if not fate, the pioneers we sent out West 150 years ago began sending things, such as recycling mantras, back East. So by the late '80s, Atlantans (and others in the original colonies) discovered new places to recycle. Even grocery stores were feeding this habit with convenient bins for paper, Styrofoam and, of course, plastic grocery store bags.

There seems no escape now, but at least I know that I am not alone. Tens of millions of people now are aware of something that we shouldn't forget: We can choose what we want to do with our garbage the same way we chose the products we now are throwing away. Yes, we will have to pay for recycling in many instances. I am sad to say that this comes as a surprise to some, especially those who see some municipalities cutting back their recycling programs. But, it is true, and always will be true.

We have a choice, and our decisions should be based on three important considerations. First, does recycling cost us money and, if so, how much? Second, if it costs us money, do we want to recycle anyway? And third, are we willing to buy enough products made from recycled materials to support the system we've created?

The question isn't whether recycling is garbage. The question is, do we want to bury all of our garbage problems?

The author is the editorial director of Waste Age