Love, it has been said, is less a feeling than an action. I’m thinking, for example, of my wife. Not about marriage, per se, but about her particular love for the planet. Consider a recent conversation we had at our home in New Zealand while I was packing for a trip to the U.S. I was happily placing the last items into the suitcase, contemplating the unusual emptiness that remained (a rare trip without the kids meant I didn’t have to actually suck air out of the bag with a wet-dry vacuum, and I wouldn’t need to do that little trick with the knee at the airport luggage scale), when she brought into the room two plastic bags filled with little plastic bottles.
These, she said, were for me to bring back to the U.S. for Terracycle. Terracycling, for those not in the know (as I was not until that moment), is a new movement run in part by material scientists to convert non-recyclable plastics into material for consumer products. This does not exist anywhere near our home in New Zealand, as far as we’re aware, but it is available at a supermarket called Alfalfa’s (as the name suggests, employees must wear Birkenstocks even mid-winter) in a city I’d be passing through on my way home.
I stared at her plastic bags, barely containing their loads of little shampoo and conditioner bottles (procured wholly by accident, over the years at hotels and motels around the world), empty deodorant sticks. make-up containers, etc,. none of which are accepted in our curbside recycling program. Then I looked at her. I said the following: Okay. She said (this being marriage, meaning the modus operandi is to read minds rather than attend to words), “I know you think I am crazy.” Though it’s true I sometimes sneak things into the trash (which is mainly an act of nostalgia), I think she is one of the sanest people I’ve ever met. I’ve lost count of the number of occasions in which she has said something that made me realize I’d been thinking wholly inside the box, fully imbibing the nectar of the dominant paradigm (though, this being marriage, I’d admitted to such less than 10 percent of the time). I promised her I’d do the sane thing.
But when the time came I found myself 1) without the car I expected to have (for reasons not worth getting into) and 2) contemplating a walk to the bus stop through the snow in sub-20 degree (F) weather in order to take two plastic bags of plastic bottles to a supermarket a couple of hours before getting on another bus to the airport to catch a set of three flights back home. I told myself that clearly this wouldn’t work—I didn’t have cash, much less exact change for the bus, didn’t have time, had never expected the snow and this level of cold, etc. I told myself this as I stopped into an ATM, told myself this as I walked grumpily across a snowy parking lot to a cafe to ask for change, told myself this as I trudged to the bus stop where a man who looked like he perhaps thought he owned the stop said, carefully, “Hey.” As my best winter jacket, hat etc. were not available for packing (long story involving the ocean), I was wearing a long overcoat 20 years out of fashion, along with a very worn and disreputable wool hat and hiking boots that were missing several lacing hooks. I was carrying a large Macy’s plastic bag filled with plastic bags that were filled with plastic bottles. I looked like one of those shopping bag people, but you often see such people on buses (I looked more carefully at the man who said “Hey”), so it didn’t matter. Anyway, to be fair, it’s hard to say whether in fact I wasn’t one.
Then I was standing over a bin at Alfalfa’s labelled “personal care products,” dropping in empty hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles, empty deodorant sticks, make-up containers, etc. A sign on top of the bins said “This is not trash.” In my head, it had my wife’s voice. I thought about how happy this would make her. I put the two plastic bags that held the bottles, along with the large Macy’s bag, into the bin for plastics bags. Then, empty of hand but full of heart, I took the bus back, walked from there to my temporary place of residence. Just as I approached the house, a tree drowsily dropped snow down the back of my neck. I had taken our recycling 8,000 miles. The thing is, I’d do it again. Look, it’s not crazy. It’s not even obligation. Baby, it’s love.