Recycling is generally good for everyone, but things can get interesting when  obsessive compulsiveness is thrown into the mix.

Like many other Americans, I recycle because it’s the right thing to do. I routinely recycle far more than what I put in my trash can. Does this make me special? Not really, but it’s how I go about it that provokes curious stares from strangers.

In my area, we have residential trash and recycle bins which get picked up weekly. It’s a simple concept: trash goes in the trash bin, recycles go in the recycle bin. They even painted the bins different colors so you’d know the difference.

Inside the house, we had a recycle box and a trash can to easily separate the items. It was the same simple concept as outside. Recycles go in the recycle box, trash goes in the trash. Pretty easy, right?

Despite the simple concept, I’d routinely see someone throw something in the trash which could be recycled. I’d make a corrective suggestion, then take the item out to place it in the recycle bin. As simple as it seems, and even after explanation and education, recyclables would still end up in the trash can.

While most people wouldn’t give this two thoughts, it caused me a level of mental discomfort about trash only Oscar The Grouch on the Sesame Street TV show would understand.

I’m not sure when or how I started being obsessive compulsive with trash, but it’s something which has presented itself more often than I’d like to admit.

Back in the day, many moons ago, I would take out trash (actual trash) from the house to the outside bin. I’d open the lid, ready to toss the bag inside when I’d see plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper, cardboard and other recyclable items inside the trash can.

This didn’t sit well with me.

I’d sigh and mumble random comments under my breath (sometimes louder). Then I’d find myself digging through the trash, sorting out the recycle items to place into the correct bin. I did this in the cold of winter, the heat of summer, in the rain and in the snow. I did it during the day and during the night. I did it whenever I saw it. 

It happened so frequently it had become a habit.

– I used to think my kids threw out recyclable items because they didn’t know better or didn’t care, but now I think they just thought it was funny to watch dad dig through the trash (which it probably was). –

As time went by, this “habit” carried over beyond my home. If I was out somewhere and saw a trash can next to a recycle bin, I’d find myself looking through the trash for anything which could then be moved to the recycle bin.

Some people think it’s gross because I dig in the trash. Others think it’s cool because I’m trying to make a difference. I personally have no opinion. I just do it.

The grocery store, the park, at work…it didn’t matter where. It’d become so addictive it was (and still is) a game. Although it’s obtrusively obsessive, it’s fun to see what I can feed the recycle bin. I pick up stuff on the ground. I take care of other’s trash. I carry things around until I can find a recycle bin.

Why? Because I feel bad when I see items that can be recycled but aren’t.

I don’t think I feel this way because I’m overly sensitive or because I’m mentally ill (well, maybe a little), but more so because it’s frustrating to me when I think about our disposable society being too lazy to care.

Recycling helps to reduce the size of our already overcrowded landfills and it helps to reduce our carbon footprint on the Earth by re-purposing items which would otherwise be wasted. Recycling reduces air and water pollution, it reduces greenhouse gases and conserves natural resources.

Why shouldn’t we care about that?

A little bit of effort will have a big impact on making the world a better place now and for future generations. It doesn’t take much. You just have to care.

Written by Marty