Since I was a young boy, I have cared about the environment. I was born and raised in Newburyport in the 1950s by parents who wouldn't tolerate littering of any kind — my gum wrapper landing on the ground was considered a serious offense. And when I discovered that there were pipes sticking into the Merrimack River, pouring all sorts of nasty waste directly into the water just down the street from my home, I was mortified — could this be allowed?
As I walked to school, I saw the aftermath of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of pieces of chewing gum and wax candy that we used to buy at Schwartz's, Rubino's and Pattow's neighborhood stores, discarded from hands, mouths and pockets directly onto the sidewalk. (If you remember these stores, you'll know that I grew up in the South End). We had to watch our step as we made our way to the Brown School, or we'd be walking around with the gunk on the bottom of our soles.
As I grew older, I became very aware of the trash and pollution I saw. It did not give me a good feeling, and I guess without even knowing it, I was becoming an environmentalist.
As an adult, I had the privilege of living in a country that, even in the 1980s, was quite advanced in environmental responsibility. I moved to The Netherlands (Holland), and I was introduced to my trash can by my landlord. I did not know that I needed a lesson on using a trash can — I had used them before with ease. But I was about to become familiar with a whole new world of "recycling made easy."
In Holland, recycling was mandatory. Everyone complied with the rules not only because it was the law and made sense to recycle, but also because it was simple. Trash containers made of strong plastic were supplied by the city. They had wheels, making them easy to maneuver to the curb. They came in different sizes, according to the size of the family. Very large families had more than one. Being a young couple with no children yet, although one was on the way, we had a medium-sized container.
The key to what made recycling easy was inside the container. There was a divider that could be moved side to side to accommodate the way each household generated trash. One side of the container was for garbage that could be spread into a landfill for composting, such as potato peelings, dead flowers and table scraps. The other side was for any material that could be recycled — such as paper, plastic, metal cans and wood. We didn't have to separate these things, just dump everything on its correct side.
The trash trucks that picked up the recyclables were painted green on one side, where the recyclables would go, and blue on the other side for the garbage destined for the compost pile. The containers would be strapped to a ramp and then tilted upside down — with the divider as well as a separation wall on the truck ensuring the recyclables and garbage would land on the correct sides.
Once the truck was full, it would travel to an area where the sides would open up and the green recycling side would disperse all the recyclables into a material separation system and the garbage was emptied into a composting landfill. It was easy, and that was the key to its success.
Over the years, I have been fortunate to learn a great deal about the environment and am pleased to be able to share this information with readers through this monthly Going Green column. I hope what I have discovered about reducing, reusing, recycling, pre-cycling and pollution, as well as energy conservation and money savings through environmentally sound practices, will benefit everyone.
I look forward to hearing readers' questions and comments and will answer them in future articles. Until next month, take care and be "green."
Bill Goss is the owner of Quality Systems Consulting Group in Amesbury. His Web site is www.qualitysystems2008.com. If you have any questions regarding Going Green, send them to email@example.com, and he will answer them in upcoming columns.