New York Recycling; The Big Rotten Apple

I didn’t understand, nor really care about the environmental crisis raging throughout the world until I landed in New York last month. Having diligently recycled for as long as I can remember at the behest of my mother and all other Irish mammies, I just presumed that America: The Leader of the Free World, (whatever that is), has kept up with the green bin/paper bag trends that have rocked the socks off Ireland and Europe since the turn of the century.

They have not.

Apparently, the Big Apple has been too wrapped up in other day-to-day nuances — like fashion and food — to realise they have become completely ignorant of other matters affecting the rest of the world.

But before I decide to completely tear the city apart and discourage you all from visiting, I would like to concentrate my anger on a very specific and astonishing realisation that has dawned on me since I’ve arrived; that has turned me into a Trump- hating, paper-bag wielding lunatic environmentalist, and that is recycling.

Frankly, there wasn’t anyone more surprised by this turn of events than myself. The growing urge for my driveway’s green bin and my mother’s obsessive churn of recyclables has become a preoccupation of mine over the last few weeks. I have been bemused by posters on the subway instructing patrons to ‘keep our tracks clean’ when there are no bins in which to put your rubbish in; I’ve been annoyed by the sheer volume of plastic bags accumulating in my press because of the pressure to double and triple bag grocery shopping; but mostly I’ve become terrified that within a few years our generation will be at the helm of the crisis and by then the eejits in control of it all now might have destroyed it beyond repair.

I’ve never been particularly proud of the Irish government; whether because of their lack of progressiveness; their sexism; or their general economic idiocy. They have never inspired or impressed me – that is until I moved here. I do realise of course that we are caged by the whole E.U arrangement, and autonomy has been an abstract concept since the recession, so this might very well be because of the union – but our recycling, and the way the Irish mammies enforce it, is very much something to be proud of, folks.

Here, recycling is as much of an abstract concept as the Troika back home – nobody really understands it, and people seem a little afraid of it. The kitchen porter in the restaurant I’m working in stared at me in bewilderment the other day when I asked him where the glass bin was, after noticing my simple colleagues placing the wine bottles in the bin with the straws and Styrofoam – ‘what glass bin?’ he replied, ‘the glass goes with the plastic and paper. All together, miss.’ While his English isn’t the best, the message was very clear – these people are stupid and are en route to destroy us all under a mound of unsorted waste.

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New Yorkers are apparently so unused to sorting waste, that this man stood for some three hours, wracked with indecision as to which hole to put his bottle in.

But I know they’re not alone. It’s not the individual restaurant – it’s the entire city.

Leonardo Di Caprio had to get up on stage and actually say “if you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, in science, or empirical truths”. He had to explicate this very simple sentence because there are people, millions of people in this country, who are following a man who believes the whole concept of global warming was cooked up by the Chinese for economic gain. I was enjoying the circus of the U.S election that that moron has gotten into the White House, nobody, including myself, will be laughing anymore.

I want to focus on Donald Trump for just a second, because what he said about Global Warming is mirrored in the day-to-day coming and goings of New Yorkers. They go about their business with a similar attitude to Drumpf towards the environment. I received a plastic bag with my chewing gum on the second day I arrived in New York – chewing gum. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, when I said to the shopkeeper “No, I don’t need the bag, thanks”, he looked at me in confusion – because that’s the mindset. He’s probably thinking ‘where’s she going to throw that wrapper when she’s done?’ because there are no bins. What he’s definitely not thinking is “oh, she doesn’t want to pay the charge” – because there is no charge.

It’s November 2016 and only next month will New York State begin to impose a charge on plastic bags – a whopping 5 cents. In Ireland, the ban on free plastic bag came into effect in 2002, so by now invariably every mammy has at least 6 or 7 Dunnes/Tesco/Supervalu reusable bags in their boot and that’s it – no more, no less, because they have exactly what they need, and plastic bags now cost about 25 cent. When the law first came in 14 years ago, they were 15 cent, about 20 American cents. The numbers speak for themselves and I don’t need to spell it out – this American government is extremely slow to react to the climate change epidemic, and really hasn’t copped the severity of the problem. So much so, that 21 American youngsters are actually suing their government for environmental negligence because they too realise how sloppy their representatives have been on the global stage in regard to climate change.

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If everyone was as excited about recycling as these people, the world would be very clean, and very dull.

The outlook and promise for change is not good. Nobody is putting America under enough pressure to turn the country green, nobody cares enough to implement a radical plan. I never thought I cared, but I do now!

If Enda Kenny and his band of nitwits in the Dáil have control over the situation in Ireland, then surely, with the resources of this vast and hugely patriotic country, the American government, which will hopefully be led by the saner of the two candidates after today, can implement some kind of measures to steer the state of the place in the right direction, and besides, the noise of rustling plastic is rightly pissing me off.

Amy Corcoran

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