Post 66: The Point of Pointless Acts

Happy New Year, Dear Readers.

Thanks for reading in 2022. Terry has stepped in this week to write about something he thought a lot about in 2022: pointlessness. He has no advice, just experiences that made him think about what he does, and why, and even whether.

Beer and wine bottles show their usefulness in larger numbers on New Year’s Eve—but what happens to them when they’re empty? Is it even worth asking?

There are glass bottle situations and also grocery store occurrences included here that you may relate to. If so, leave him a comment.

Thank you, see you in 2023!

In November of 2020, the City of Tucson announced that glass would no longer be accepted by recycling trucks. Instead, recycling centers were being set up around the city, to which people would be expected to bring their used glassware. According to the city’s website:

By removing glass from curbside collection, the Environmental and General Services Department (EGSD) will reduce processing costs at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), while implementing a communitywide glass collection program that keeps glass for reuse locally. The reuse of glass locally provides the City with more program control, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This program will support the City’s adopted Climate Action Plan that was approved by Mayor and Council.

                Consequently, I have, for the past year or so, been taking our accumulated glass containers—kombucha bottles, empty olive jars, the occasional peanut butter cylinder—to one of two recycling centers: one located outside the Ward 6 city council office and, more commonly, one located near the scary police compound at Reid Park. I was able to incorporate this task into my usual weekday morning walks or weekend bike trips, allowing me to simultaneously avoid adding carbon emissions to the atmosphere while gathering further evidence to bolster my application for sainthood.

 When I felt extra virtuous, I’d pick up empty beer bottles I found along along the way and add them to the other glass containers rattling around in my mailbag. I always experience a sense of quiet, anarchic joy as I push glass through the round aperture and hear it crashing into its fellows inside, which contrasts with the civic pride I feel as I contribute to the common weal. I walk away from the bin with both my bag and my heart lightened.

Of course, what I’m doing is utterly pointless.

It’s not simply that an act of faith is required to believe that the collected glass will all be crushed and then, as the city’s website indicates, provided “to the Department of Transportation and Mobility and other City departments for use in sandbags and as aggregate for construction projects”; many of us are cognizant of the fact that “recycled” materials have, for years, often ended up in landfills next to (allegedly) non-recyclable garbage. Nor is it my dubiousness about the city’s claim that this glass reuse strategy will “contribute to the reduction of our environmental footprint by . . . avoiding long-haul transportation costs.” When people drive their cars to the various recycling bins around the city, are they emitting less carbon than the recycling trucks the city utilizes?  (Yes, I know: one is not a direct one-to-one match between cars and trucks, since it’s likely that many people stop by the glass bin as they are out running errands. Still, it would be interesting to compare those data.)

No, the reason my actions are pointless is because of this:

                This is the Dumpster behind the Silver Room bar, located a few hundred yards down the street where we live. Every Monday morning, this container is stacked to the brim with empty beer and liquor bottles; this load is later picked up by the City of Tucson and, since the bottles are in the designated “garbage” container, taken to a landfill and buried.

                While I’m sure there are many responsible bar owners who endeavor to recycle at least a percentage of the bottles they discard, how many other establishments in town replicate the Silver Room’s disposal methods? I’d hazard to guess that most of them do.

                Therefore, bearing the foregoing in mind, the question must be asked: of what real consequence are my actions? The answer: probably none.

                So why do I continue to take bottles to the Reid Park recycling bin every week? Like the name Buster Keaton gave his vessel in the movie “The Boat”: Damfino. (Read: “Damn if I know.”)  However, as long as legs and lungs hold out, to the bin I intend to schlep, regardless of the pointlessness.

                This futility is all around, if you look for it. It’s especially prevalent in one of the two grocery stores I frequent. The same mailbag I use to haul bottles is what I employ to transport parsnips, bananas, and portobello mushrooms. (And Kind Bars. And Irish whiskey.) While loading my purchases in my bag—yes, I often use the self-checkout section—a quick glance at my fellow consumers indicates that hundreds of primarily single-use plastic bags are dispensed daily in that area alone. One shudders to imagine how many bags are dispensed at every checkout lane throughout the store; how many at every store throughout the city. The state. The country. The world.

When I do use the checkout lanes with human cashiers and baggers, the experience is almost always fraught with mounting tension. As we reach the end of our transactional relationship, I am anxious to alert both the cashier and bagger to the existence of my mailbag before they have, with a preternatural speed and dexterity, swaddled everything I have just purchased in plastic shrouds. Despite my vigilance, however, it often transpires that I am too late; the machine is relentless; all objects have been entombed, the bagger moved on to another register, the cashier, occupied with the next customer, has neither the time nor the inclination to take the “used”  bags back; thus, my only recourse is take them home and employ them as many times as I can, or else deposit them in the “Recycled Bag” container by the exit, hoping they will actually be used again. Another act of faith.

At a store I don’t usually frequent, I told the person bagging the groceries that I had my own bag; misinterpreting my request, he removed everything from one plastic bag and put each object into its own bag. It was like having a nightmare while awake.

                Again, I ask: why do I continue to engage in activities that I know are, in both the long and short run, absolutely useless?

                According to the website “The World Counts” (https://www.theworldcounts.com/), we use “5 trillion plastic bags… per year! That’s 160,000 a second! And over 700 a year for every single person on the planet.”

                The number of plastic bags is almost beyond comprehension, if their data are correct. (Yet another act of faith.) (Also, I hate the exclamation points.) (But that’s neither here nor there.) The site claims further that it requires “up to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to break down. On average, a plastic shopping bag is used for just 12 minutes.”

However, regardless of the absurdity of the path I have chosen to pursue, pursue it I shall continue. I’m stubborn that way. For some reason, I believe that a person’s actions are meaningful, even though the overwhelming evidence indicates otherwise. While there is likely a salient quotation or two from Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” that I could employ, or perhaps a link to recent research in the realm of quantum physics in which the interconnectivity of all matter is further explicated, or maybe a relevant paragraph or two from Naomi Klein’s recent commencement speech that I could copy and paste, the truth is that it’s late on Christmas Eve and I’m a wee bit tired. I don’t really feel like looking stuff up right now.

See you at the recycling bin!

2 thoughts on “Post 66: The Point of Pointless Acts

  1. Kinda like those pesky starfish that ground themselves on the shore– I feel like I’ve done what I require of myself with each bit of veggie waste that goes into the compost. Each bag I’ve avoided. Each crash that follows the drop into portholes at the glass roll off.

    Pointless too the plastic bags from our oatmeal, frozen berries, other foodstuffs, rinsed (the gray water onto our plants) and then shared with people with animals in their life, so the plastic at least gets one more use for poop or litter clumps.

    My hometown banned plastic bags at grocery stores a couple of years ago and the pre-ban lamentations cracked me up! Oh the horror of it! Especially curious from the old folk who came of age before the advent of plastic bags. As far as I know, the lamenters have survived the shift. And as far as I know, all this pointless activity keeps me from despair.

    Like

  2. Terry, I feel exactly the same way. At one store, after I told the cashier that I had my own bag, he quickly bagged my stuff in plastic, then lifted the plastic bag into my re-usable cloth one. (sigh)
    Meanwhile, in an act of optimism and faith, I continue to stuff all recyclable plastic bags I end up with into the bin labeled for such at our local Walmart.

    Like

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