Tessa's Midsummer Thoughts

The View from Over Here:

My past two semesters at NYU were incredible. Never have I been so fantastically overwhelmed by all the things on my to-do list (and for me, I think that’s saying something). One of the recurring members of that list was Return Recycling, which, if you somehow managed to get to this blog post without knowing, is a project based on the idea that our current waste management system could use a bit of rethinking.

I’d worked on one or two other recycling-type projects before I got involved with Return Recycling (one of them with Davis - see Post #1), so I was already down with getting up close and personal with trash. At the beginning of that semester, I’d just gotten back from studying environmental literature and theory in Australia and was so ready to get my hands on something a little more concrete. So when Davis pitched me his big idea of overhauling NYU’s waste management system, I was smitten. Change the way thousands of people thought about and behaved around waste with a comprehensively community-based, socially-responsible, and both data- and theory-driven project? Hell yeah.

So I spent those eight months or so working on designing, building, installing, and loving three hefty new garbage-recycling-compost bins. It was good company and a good time, and it challenged me to come up with tangible solutions to all these relatively vague problems that had always been floating around out there, but I’d never really had to or thought to look at. Pretty soon I couldn’t walk by a recycling bin without inspecting it and asking some poor passerby their opinions on it.

For at least few solid weeks towards the end of the semester, Return Recycling was what I did: it took priority over free time, other projects, and work and school too, if we’re being honest. I woke up super early and stayed up super late, trekked all across the city on a regular basis, stressed over deadlines and people and minute details - and seriously loved it. But then, as it does, the semester screeched to an end, and I ditched the city to live and work on Cape Cod for the summer.

And that’s where I am now, writing this blog post from a little cabin in the woods in Provincetown, MA - a starkly different place than I was in two months ago. It is true that our summer plans were to lighten the load RR-wise - after such a whirlwind, we needed some mental and emotional breathing time. But now, after being so distanced from the whole project for two months, I feel like someone stole the load off my back and booked it down the street.

Don’t get me wrong - I still look twice at all the labels on the recycling bins in town, and I’ve made friends with the guys who work at the waste facility down the street. But in terms of thinking about those floaty problems, I have to admit that I’ve started to sink back into the habit of letting them float by. Here, I don’t have those hulking bamboo bins to focus all of my energy and brainpower on anymore. The concrete jungle and its trashy (heh) inhabitants that used to welcome me as I walked out my door have been replaced by some low-bush blueberries and the neighborhood box turtle. Not that that’s any excuse - people work and think remotely all the time - but it’s something that I want to acknowledge, embrace, and work with so I can reignite and employ that passion that took over my whole life just a few months ago.

So I’m doing it old-school and tying a string around my finger to remind myself that I need to keep thinking about waste. ALL THE TIME. Okay just kidding, I’m not an extremist and I have other interests and passions too (I swear). But the way we conceptualize and deal with waste is a subject too important to let fly under the radar - and that’s what Return Recycling is all about! It’s not all about building newer and newer recycling bins; it’s about making waste something we can talk to our friends and family about, or organize actions and events around in our neighborhood, or even just keep in mind when we’re picking blueberries in our front yard.

I’m so, so excited to explore anything and everything that Return Recycling might become in these next few months, and I hope that you all - whoever may be reading this - can find something in these blog posts or in the work we do that makes you feel happy or curious or even a little bit passionate. Because that’s what it’s all about, right?