As the summer flurry of camping trips and visits to family on the other side of the country winds down, my mind turns to recycling. Well, my mind is pretty much always turned to recycling. It’s what I do for a living. But while most other (normal/well-adjusted) people are sitting back at home flipping through the pictures of loved ones and recounting great tales of adventure, I am going over in my mind a different type of adventure: recycling on vacation.
Want to know if you’re truly green? And I mean green green. Like Chartreuse and Kelly had a love child and you’re it. Like accidently cut yourself and the color you bleed causes your friends to call Roswell instead of the hospital. That kind of green. You know you’ve attained that particular hue if you’re obsessed with figuring out where to recycle when you’re away from home and there is not a single receptacle in sight.
Sure recycling is easy on your turf, but as soon as you go somewhere unfamiliar, that’s when it gets exciting. You think you had fun parasailing or traveling to Europe or skydiving this summer? Ha! You haven’t lived until you’ve explored the recycling options in a tourist town without a program.
The Vacation Home
Take Myrtle Beach, SC for example. Every year my entire extended family makes the pilgrimage across the continent to spend some quality time together with our feet in the sand. We have a blast together. Memories are made, stories are told, beverages are consumed. Over the course of a week with 30 or so people, quite a lot of beverages are consumed, as a matter of fact. As are dinners, lunches, breakfasts and snacks.
Now, Myrtle Beach, like many other US cities, is a challenging place when it comes to recycling because there is not a single pick-up service available. I dare you to find one. Go through the Yellow Pages and call everyone you can think of. I did, and failed dismally. What I did find, however, was that there was a drop-off center on the edge of town. It’s huge, and it’s gorgeous. You can drop off anything you like, really: bottles, cans, batteries, trash, mattresses…and all for free. If you can haul it, they’ll take it. And we took a lot of it. Three rental cars full, as a matter fact. I had to leave early, but there was another car-full queued up and ready to go as I was walking out the door.
Incidentally, my family also spent a week at another vacation home this summer, in a beach house in Ocean City, Maryland. Luckily, they had a marked recycling bin for plastics there. (Hooray!) What they did not have marked was what kind of plastics they would take. 1’s? 2’s? 5’s? No matter. The next day when the collection folks came around, I asked them (of course I did). Noticing that they were also putting trash in the same truck, I asked them where they were taking it all, as well. Turns out they were taking it quite a distance from there, which, of course, made me cringe a little at the footprint they were leaving for travel. On the other hand, I was relieved to see that they did indeed have a plan. I eventually let them go, all but patting the side of the truck as it pulled out.
Camping (with a vehicle)
My family loves to camp. As long as you’ve got a vehicle and you’re not hiking for miles to your campsite, recycling on a camping trip is easy. Pack it in, pack it out. Just remember to take two bags—one for actual waste and another for the recycling bin. This particular shot is from the KOA campsite at Matt’s recent 24-hour endurance bike race. They had 10 trashcans lined up in a row as well as 4 HUGE 6-yard dumpsters…but no recycling.
Camping (without a vehicle)
A favorite activity in my family is the river raft trip. We drive to our launch point, and then float down the river for days, stopping at points to camp along the way. Since we don’t have access to our truck for hauling, I’ve learned that the easiest way to recycle on these trips is to simply do it in advance. As much as is possible, I transfer and condense the packaging that we take with us. Easy!
In between the beach houses this summer, we did make a stop at a hotel for one night in North Carolina. Since we were pushing off early the next day, we were at the mercy of the hotel’s waste management system. Fortunately, they did have a recycling program. Unfortunately, they only took cans, newspaper and cardboard. It felt a bit like we were in the dark ages, but at least they had something. If you want to plan ahead better than we did, I did find a useful list of green hotelsacross the nation. Very helpful for future planning.
On the Move
It’s funny to me how it’s easier to recycle on an airplane than it is traveling in your own car. On the plane, the flight attendants take those cans and bottles for you and whisk them away properly, but when you are in your own vehicle and going any great distance, you are likely to only see trash receptacles at the fueling stations. So, green blood, do you toss it or do you pack it home?
Another option is to mention it to the person working the counter. Maybe if enough people try and change gas station waste culture, it might just make a difference. From where I sit, it’s worth a shot. Those filling stations are stuck in a rut, trying to maintain the status quo from years of habit. Most of them only have one space for waste – on the trash islands with the windshield washers and the paper towels. They are still trying to fit the ham a certain way in grandma’s pan, so to speak. But if enough people speak up, maybe just maybe they will see fit to remake that “pan”. And in the meantime, I recommend a box or bag for recycling kept in the trunk.
Obviously, there are so many more types of traveling scenarios with which you can stretch your recycling muscles. Think of it as “extreme vacationing” with a twist. But really, it’s not that difficult to be responsible away from home with a little planning ahead. Together, let’s keep the Earth a beautiful place to vacation.