Voice: Team Green

In Seattle

Category: Green Living


I recently received a brochure from the City of Seattle explaining the new recycling program, and according to my calculations, I should have them figured out by 2020 or so. One of the most confusing changes is new pick-up days. As I found myself dragging my giant-ass carts and cans to and from the curb dozens of times, it occurred to me that this might be some insidious health initiative hatched by the feds to get us to exercise more.

All that exercise gave me another idea: As someone who learns through practice and repetition, I thought my family might do the same and decided to run them through a series of Olympic-like recycling competitions after each meal.

Our first time trials took place at the ChowDome (aka our dinner table). The event: The Reclamation Recyclathon. Right before the gun went off, the world-record holder (my wife, Vanessa) was disqualified for a substance violation (wine). That left twins Rachel and Riley (at 14, the same age as the Chinese gymnastics squad) to compete.

Stopwatch in hand, I watched Rachel (representing Slowvenia) quickly clear the table, scrape excess salad into the food bin, empty leftover pasta into a Tupperware bowl, and then make a crucial mistake that cost her dessert—she tossed the pizza carton into the paper recycling bin rather than the food waste (slop) bucket. “No (recycled) gold medal for you!” I shouted.

Next up was Riley (representing Slothvenia). Things were looking good as he adeptly slid bones, bits of cheese and the remains of his hamburger bun into the food waste bin. But then came his gaffe: He pivoted to empty my coffee cup, strained the leftover coffee grounds into the slop bucket with a paper towel, only to flip the paper towel itself into the paper recycle bin—an egregious error, as the rules clearly state that soiled paper towels go into the food bin! The Romanian judge docked Riles an eighth of a point, and the French judge just told him to get ready for bed.

As the kids slept in the Athlete Village (bunk beds), I spent the night prepping for the final event: Synchronized Sorting. The contest was simple enough: Correctly sort as many objects as possible into three bins (garbage, recycling, food and yard waste) in three minutes.

Rachel got off to an early lead, starting with objects she knew were recyclable: the newspaper, plastic bottles, a plastic dry cleaning bag. She nailed Styrofoam, but got cocky and misread a #7 PLA (non-recyclable) plastic item.

Riley then moved swiftly through his first group of objects, including three tough maneuvers that placed alkaline batteries, bagged diapers (ew!) and a prescription bottle (residue from which can seep into the drinking water) correctly in the garbage. Surprisingly, the kid got tripped up on a CD case—which, though plastic, is NOT allowed in recycling bins (and everyone should be using iTunes anyway). The final tally: Rachel 9.4, Riley 8.7. A deduction for putting several plastic food bags (Ziplocs and produce bags) into the recycling—when they clearly belong in the garbage—hurt the Slothvenian, but what really cost him the gold was a time delay involving bubble wrap.

Our family is continuing to train for the upcoming Vancouver 2010 games, though we know the Japanese squad has a big advantage: Residents there have eight separate tubes in their houses that shoot materials into community recycling bins: paper, plastic, rubber—even Hello Kitty toys—get different compartments.

The American team will need plenty of help, so if you’re game, go stick your head in the garbage can and start sorting—half that stuff’s not really garbage. It’s greengold, baby.