I’m a kid. Like most kids, I want stuff. Sure, I’ve got friends; I’ve got toys and things. But there’s more. More stuff I want. Like comic books, action figures, candy. Quarters for the arcade. Stuff like that costs money. Like I mentioned, I’m a kid. How do I make this work? Sure, there are chores around the house. But the barrels only need to be brought out and in once a week. How much can that pay? I’m too young to run the lawn mower. So all I can do is rake. How is a kid like me going to make some money?
Then I discovered it. It’s like a vault. What it actually is a shed, sort of. It’s behind my grampa’s house. He lives across the street. My father shows it to me. It has bags and bags of empty bottles and cans. So? So what? He then tells me how, by taking these bags, like Rumplestilskin with straw, I can turn these empties into cash. See back then, we had this thing called a “bottle bill.” So every can and bottle had a price. All cans were a nickel. But a bottle could be either 5 or 10 cents apiece. Sure, sounds like just peanuts but when these bags were full.
So when Saturday came. I’d be ready. After my weekly dose of SuperFriends and Eggo waffles, I was ready. I would lug the bags and put them in Dad’s car. Then, off we went to the redemption center, which was an extension of a liquor store. I waited and watched the cans, the bottles be collected and counted. The nearby cash register beeped and the receipt grew longer. Once it finished, it was handed to me to bring inside to the store. Once totaled, the cash was placed in my hands. Anywhere from three to ten dollars (sometimes). And I was set. Until I would do it all over again in about two weeks.
Now you can look at this in two ways. On the one hand, it was a quick and easy way to make some pocket money. On the other, maybe the awakening of an environmentalist.
Something must have clicked because not long after I was corralling any plastic bottle I found in the house in the hopes of recycling them. Only to realize, when the time came they’d just been put in the week’s trash.
But my passion for Mother Earth didn’t fade. I just did something different. My next act of eco heroism came in the form of a double cassette. The Green Peace Rainbow Warriors Album. I mean this counted right? Still planet conscious? I mean the proceeds went to Greenpeace itself right? So it helped didn’t it? I mean anything involving U2, The Pretenders, World Party and Terrence Trent D’arby had to be a worthwhile cause right?. Still it wasn’t enough so I upped the game a year later and planted trees on Earth Day’s 20th birthday. So I helped right? At least for that day.
So here I am now, older and wiser, so to speak. But I must admit I’ve been out of the Planet Saving game a while. Until now. See I’ve started, with the help of my apartment building, the fight again. I’m making a difference. I’m doing it. I’m unstoppable. I’m REducing, REusing and REcycling, like a Boss. But you know something, there’s one thing that these activists don’t tell you. The one thing they leave out. The work! I mean sure I’m separating my recyclables. But the specifics! I mean. Not all plastics can be taken. Plus they need to be cleaned beforehand.
I’m recycling my paper too. Well only if it’s the right kind. If it’s able to be torn and NOT contaminated with food. And don’t even get me started on the cans. But I’m doing it.
However, I’ve got multiple bags of multiple items that will (once I gather enough of them) can be taken down to our ONE recycling bin that’s only emptied once a week. In the meantime I’ve got a bag of aluminum cans, a bag of plastics and one full of papers. So I basically have four personal landfills in my kitchen. But I’m making a difference.
So I’ve now discovered the irony of it all. That the more we do to make a difference, the more work it in entails. Now that’s not a complaint, just an observation. Now this is something I should have known since those Saturday afternoon at the redemption center. Sure, my turning in the bottles was a twofold benefit. Doing my part for a little something in return. Buying the Green Peace cassettes. Doing my part for a worthy cause and getting some awesome music in return. But also, getting inundated with mountains of junk mail from Green Peace. Sure it was printed on recycled, acid free paper. But it was still ending up in the trash that same day.
And now this. Separating my own garbage to be recycled, cleaning out every empty plastic shampoo bottle or mayonnaise jar. Every can of peas, beans or olives. And making sure every piece of paper is dry and not contaminated with any foreign substance.
Sure it piles up. But I do it. And will do it. Because I’m making a difference.
About the author...
Billy Sullivan is an actor, writer, solo performer and story teller.
A familiar face on Chicago stages, he appears Saturday night with the Chicago's CUPID PLAYERS in their long running hit "Cupid Has A Heart On," every Saturday at Stage 773. Hasalso been seen at The Public House Theatre, 906 Theatre, Cowardly Scarecrow theatre company and with the New American Folk Theatre. His solo work has been performed with LIVING ROOM and LIMULNALITY.
An accomplished storyteller with Chicago's growing storytelling community. He has appeared at 10x9(Uncommon Ground Wrigleyville), co hosted/produced SUNDAY MORNING STORIES at Second City and competed at The Moth Story Slam.