My Early Recycling Years


Forty-six years ago I began recycling, by collecting aluminum beer cans after parties. These new cans had only been in manufacture a few years and featured fancy new pop-tops. This genius marketing invention helped beer sales surge (a lot more people got plastered!)

One year after Alcoa announced they would accept cans for recycling, I got an inspiration. After local parties at my friends parents’ houses, before leaving I started walking around picking up all the aluminum cans littered across the lawn. I’d hussle them into large plastic trash bags in the back of my car, a ’64 Chevy Impala station wagon with a lot of cargo space. Sometimes, after a few days it smelled pretty badly. I suppose some thought I was a peculiar long-haired kid.

Once a week or so I’d drag out the bag and hoist my dad’s sledge hammer to flatten cans on the garage floor, carefully aiming to crunch each can into a perfect little disc. Cans that weren’t entirely empty would spatter fermented beer. Yuck!

When I had accumulated three heavily-packed lawn bags, perhaps over two years of party clean-up, they smelled awfully. My Dad said, “Get rid of them!” So I drove them to the Alcoa Aluminum plant about 30 miles away. At the back door of the plant was a weight scale. I was given a paper receipt and directed to drive around to the other side of the giant plant to get paid. At 3 cents a pound, I netted about three dollars and twenty cents. Was it worth it? Yes, it was, to me. And in those days with gas selling at $.35, heck, I could half-fill my tank!

Ever since then, I’ve been recycling as much as possible…

I also have memories of my younger days, perhaps when the seeds to my recycling inspirations were planted. One day while sailing with my father on our boat in the ocean a few miles outside New York City, we witnessed an immense barge that was stacked high with every conceivable type of garbage. With binoculars, it was an intriguing mystery. trying to identify the objects stacked high. After it passed under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge (connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island), this vessel passed by on its scheduled route out to sea, somewhere. We were downwind as it passed, with all the garbage baking in the sun. The smell was overpowering, giving us a feeling of helplessness, lasting for minutes. Fifty miles offshore, just far enough out where no one could see, it would dump its entire load. I still cannot fathom what NYC government leaders were thinking back then.

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