Mar 272017

bart-everson-headshot-2013If you’re looking to justify your gloomy worldview, there’s plenty of material at hand.

Some look to the malfeasance of the rich and powerful. Others point to shocking acts of violence in our own community.

Me? I prefer glass.

Such responsible citizens!

I’ve written before about glass recycling and the challenges it presents. Yet that was a essentially hopeful moment, inspired by the re-launch of a glass dropoff program at the ReFresh Project on Broad. Alas, the moment has passed.

I participated happily over the past six months or so, hauling our empty bottles with me when I made groceries, and dutifully placing them in the dumpster. And I felt good about that.

Full of Glass

Clearly I wasn’t alone. I noted the dumpster was often near to overflowing. Sometimes I even had to keep the glass in the trunk because there wasn’t any room for it.

Now it seems that program has been discontinued, and I find myself dispirited — but not for the simple reason you might think.

The sharp shards of our own idiocy

As I noted in that previous column, our failure to recycle glass isn’t the end of the world. There are worse things to send to our landfills, and composting is probably a more urgent civic priority.

(This would be a good place to plug the Community Composting Fundraiser at Sidney’s Saloon on Wednesday from 6-9pm; you can also make a tax-deductible contribution to this cause online via In Our Back Yards.)

So I’m not crying much over the fact that I no longer have a convenient place to drop my glass. No, I’m more upset about how this went down and what it all means.

When the dumpster was overflowing, people often left their bottles alongside it, despite signs admonishing them to the contrary. What do you think happened to that stray glass? Inevitably, some of those bottles got broken. Sharp shards of glass in the parking lot created a hazard for vehicle tires and customers in sandals and the employees responsible for keeping the place clean.

I hasten to add that I haven’t spoken to any official representatives about this. I’m an opinion writer, not an investigative journalist! Anyhow, I haven’t even gotten to my point yet, the real reason I’m feeling discouraged just now.

The crux of the matter is this: People still left glass there. The dumpster was gone. But people still left glass. Multiple signs have been erected telling people not to leave glass there. But people are still doing it.

What gives?

My first inclination was to bemoan our educational system. People can’t read! And that’s real: Something like a fifth of adults in Orleans Parish may lack basic prose literacy skills, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.

But then I checked myself. What’s the overlap between those who can’t read and those who make a special effort to recycle glass? Pardon me for sounding classist, but I think not much. My gut instinct says recycling in this city correlates with higher levels of educational attainment. Not only are they educated, I’m going to go further out on a limb and say that these people are at the leading edge of consciousness in our community. They care about the big picture. They care about the consequences of their actions, and they are trying to do the right thing.

Anyhow, people hauling their glass to the grocery are almost certainly literate and capable of reading the posted signs that say, quite clearly, no glass.

Two possible explanations

Case 1: People aren’t reading the signs. They are capable, but they’re just not reading, despite the fact that the signs are prominent and legible. They are also ignoring the manifest nonverbal “signs” of what’s going on — the broken glass, the general disarray. They see the mess and add to it.

Case 2: People are reading the signs, but they aren’t following the instructions. They’re rebels! Individualists! They think for themselves, and no mere sign can tell them what to do!

Either way, it seems clear that people are not thinking about the consequences of their actions. If they were, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

But hold on there. Didn’t I just praise these people as being conscious citizens? Didn’t I just say that they do, in fact, care about the consequences of their actions?

The long-term consequences of short-term thinking

The only conclusion left is that, although they care, they are not thinking it through. They are thinking only in the short-term. They arrive with a load of glass and the desire to leave it to be recycled, for the common good and the betterment of the planet. They feel good about that. They see the dumpster is gone. They see signs that say no. But they’ll feel better about their consumer habits if they leave the glass there. Perhaps they’ll feel absolved of the guilt they feel for creating waste in the first place.

Hey, I get it. It’s a powerful impulse.

So they do it. They leave the glass behind. They trade a momentary feeling of righteousness against the reality of ruining the whole program. It’s like peeing in the pool. They fail to grasp the long-term consequences of short-term thinking.

This is why we can’t have nice things. Like a functioning ecosystem.

And I ask you, how can we possibly hope to tackle big issues, like climate change or the extinction crisis, if our best and brightest can’t even read a simple sign, follow simple instructions, or come to terms with the long-term consequences of their actions?

Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband, a father and a resident of Mid-City. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Greenway, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle. More at BartEverson.com.

  7 Responses to “Bart Everson: Ugly glass mess proves we’re doomed”

  1. It’s surely a sign that people are willing to do only a teeny tiny bit of work to change their bad habits and save the planet. They want to tell themselves they’re doing good until it becomes too inconvenient or too much trouble. I’m with you, Bart, it’s a very sad thing to conclude.

    I guess we could think instead about how many people arrive with glass, see the sign, and do the right thing. We have plenty of evidence that some ignore signs, but how many heed the signs? We don’t know. And it may be a significantly larger number than those who dump their glass and forget about it.



  2. I think its abhorrent that people are ignoring the signs. These are not people who care–these people are inconsiderate and lazy–they don’t want to have to haul their waste off. It WAS a liability issue because people started dumping things OTHER THAN glass–once again despite the specific signage instructions.
    If it were my property and business I’d have a sign stating dropping off glass constitutes trespassing and a camera to document it. Then I’d go after these people and fine them or make them do community service to pick up garbage.

    It does make me ill to think about all the stuff that goes to the landfill, but like so much else Louisiana is the least the last. There are items I’ve called about to recycle (empty script bottles, plastic boxes w/o recycle stamp indicator etc.) that we don’t or can’t recycle and too many city employees that aren’t able to provide answers.
    It does make me wonder about the rest of our RECYCLE program. How much is thrown into the bin that can’t be recycle. How does that effect the recycle/sorting process? Is our collected material even recycled? I rinse ALL my recycles-yeah S$WB loves that –because that’s what the instructions say to do in NO. What happens when something isn’t WASHED? Is all of the recycling material simply discarded into the landfills?

    I bring my compost to Holly Grove we try to minimize buying products to minimize recycling. I do my best to reuse, re purpose to lessen my footprint. g
    Unfortunately glass is a big one until we get wine stores that sell wine in the container you bring, we’re screwed. I do know that when we were able to recycle and compost our garbage was one small BAG a week!! But after reading many articles on too little too late I can’t help but wonder are we paying for money for “feel-good” ploys as many articles indicate it is?

  3. Your article contains one the best and most concise observations of what we are doing to ourselves, not just in recycling but in almost everything, Thank you!

    “…They leave the glass behind. They trade a momentary feeling of righteousness against the reality of ruining the whole program. It’s like peeing in the pool. They fail to grasp the long-term consequences of short-term thinking.

    This is why we can’t have nice things. Like a functioning ecosystem.”

  4. I agree with your opinion. So many, myself included, complain about so many things but are not willing to do the sacrifice necessary to change anything. Pay attention, people! We all have to participate! And please stop buying all those individually packaged servings of whatever it is you are too lazy to buy in bulk and transfer into reusable containers!!!! Teach your kids something! Do it! It starts with one small step!

  5. People read. People that do what they want. They say “well, I followed the rules and they dropped their end of the bargain. So there’. It’s an entitlement issue.

    • IMO, the first one to do it (and all it took was one) gave “license” to the others to do the same thing.

      There are probably some universal, extemporal behavioral principles at work here. Better to consult a social psychologist for an explanation than to bemoan our fellow travelers here and now.

  6. I think that you’re both missing the point. These people are trying to make a difference. Did I leave my glass at WF? No, but everyone’s story is different and judging other people is a downfall of a society. I think that as long as we continue to focus on the shortcomings of a few, you miss the greatness of the big picture. If it’s upsetting you so much, why don’t you pick up all of the glass at WF and bring it to the Elysian Fields drop off instead of sitting around and writing about people’s shortcomings?!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>