I was out for a walk last night. It was around 10pm, clear skies, reasonably cool.
I got to the train tracks in the middle of town. I planned to cross the tracks, then continue on for about a two mile walk in a roundabout way back to my house.
A freight train was going by. A man and a woman were on the sidewalk, sitting on their bicycles, also waiting. The man took a final swig from his bottled water. He set it down on the ground next to his foot.
“Is he going to leave the bottle?” I thought. I didn’t see a backpack on him, or a saddlebag on his bike, but he must have had the bottle with him, carrying it around. It would have been heavier before he emptied it of liquid, so I knew he was capable of taking an empty bottle.
Maybe he would stoop down to pick it up before he rode off. I looked at the graffiti on the passing freight cars. Nothing too amazing, a few bubble-letter tags, not even that colorful.
The freight train finally went by and the gates went up. The cyclist put his feet on the pedals, and rode across the tracks. The empty water bottle fell down as he brushed against it. He and the woman turned a corner and were gone.
So now, it’s me and the empty water bottle. What should I do? I picked it up. There was a garbage can by the train station. Maybe there was also a recycling can? I reached the train station and saw there was only a garbage can.
I couldn’t put it in the garbage. It should be recycled! So, I placed it on top of the garbage can. I started back on my walk.
What did I just do? How was I any better than the littering cyclist? I was leaving this bottle as someone else’s problem. Would people realize that by putting the bottle on the garbage can, I was saying to them, “Look. I know this shouldn’t go in the garbage. But I’m done with it. I would put the bottle in a recycling can if I could, but none were available. Please understand I tried my best.”
Noticed that I thought “But I’m done with it.” I have a relationship with the bottle. I never used it. It never helped me carry anything, or quenched my thirst. But now it is mine. I’m responsible for it.
I walked away from the garbage can and the bottle. I thought about the bottle. It probably wouldn’t stay on the can. It would get blown off with the slightest breeze. And then what would people think? “Stupid litterer, throwing his trash all over the ground.” That wasn’t me. It wasn’t. But I kept on walking.
I crossed the tracks, another street, and came to a corner. There was a garbage can there. Improbably, there was also a recycling can. This was right outside a bar. Perhaps that’s why it was there. I stopped. I thought for a few seconds.
I turned back, crossed the street, crossed the tracks, went back and got the bottle, which still stood where I had placed it. I crossed the tracks again, crossed the street and threw the bottle in the recycling can.
“That’s done”, I thought. But what if this bottle doesn’t actually make it to a recycling center? What if it lazily gets tossed in with unrecyclable garbage? What if it’s dropped in a landfill?
I don’t know. I hope the bottle gets to where it needs to be. That’s all I can do.