We used to have to sort our recycling into paper, metal and plastic, but now we just chuck it all in any old hoo. Is there some machine that separates it again, or does some poor fellow have to root through it by hand? —The Phantom Vegan
Science is pretty amazing. We have magnets to lift metals, solvents to dissolve paper into pulp, and complicated hydraulic contraptions to sort plastics of different densities by their specific gravity. And yet, all these marvels pale before technology's crowning achievement: its limitless ability to create new forms of mind-numbingly repetitive work.
So yes, that tofu tub caked with your grotty vegan saliva will eventually wind up on a conveyor belt, traveling at 15 mph through a sorting facility where a crackerjack cadre of French poetry majors separates your trash into homogeneous piles.
If that makes you feel like a jerk (and it should), here are some things you can do to make the sorters' lives a bit more pleasant:
1) Keep plastic bags out of the recycling. Plastic bags get wrapped around what engineers call the "giant chompy bits," and when they do, somebody has to climb into the works to cut them out. Often as not, the machinery then shudders to life with a sickening lurch, shredding the worker alive as jets of still-warm blood drench the faces of screaming, horrified onlookers.
2) No needles. Hey, junkies! Here's another reason nobody likes you. Get a sharps container or use the needle exchange—that bleach bottle you've been using bursts open in the compactor and the sharps get out. Hasn't your karma taken enough hits?
3) When in doubt, throw it out. You're actually a better citizen for putting uncertain items in the trash—even if this maxim is the oldest of old hoos.