An email rant about recycling I got the other day from the U.S. — remember: not just the paper, but hard stuff too: dirty jars, bits of aluminum foil, cell phones — got me thinking.
My conscience about recycling rests easy. It’s been rinsed, correctly compacted and put into the right bin, thank you very much.
Though it’d be easy to say that this eco-morality is my own, that would be a lie. Keeping down the global heat in my miniscule corner of the world is the mission of Il Colonnello, the Recycle Fascist.
This palazzo is small for Milan, about 10 apartments built around an irregular courtyard. And Il Colonnello has made it his job to ensure everyone’s towing the line and putting Tetra Pak in the right place. (Here, by the way, the cartons used for milk, juice, cream, etc. count as paper).
We became acquainted soon after I moved in. Tall, trim, around 70 with a shock of white hair, he was stooped over, rummaging through the trash.
“Lost something?” I ventured.
“Eh? No. It’s those imbeciles in 3C.” He is hard of hearing with hit-and-miss volume control when he speaks, tending towards bellow. I notice some second-floor peepers out on the balcony looking to see what he’s on about now.
“They’ve thrown a water bottle in with the food scraps. Again! Can you believe it?”
I understood immediately. Or thought I did, imagining a widower, maybe a retired military man, who took on sorting the mail and taking out the trash for a small monthly stipend.
Then I met his wife. I try to imagine her young, bubbly-busty with an open, slightly gap-toothed smile, fun. It is a struggle – the only clear remnant of former comeliness or gaiety is her name: Rosa. She’s always pleasant enough when we meet on the stairs but I can understand where one might need to find a good excuse to get out of the house.
His militant crusade means that if you plop a glass pesto jar in with your regular trash, it will be announced to all. (First because buying pesto is sinful when it’s so easy to make and second for the recycling peccadillo).
Have a party? Guess who’ll be there with a raised eyebrow counting bottles going into the big green bin the next day.
And the traumatizing effects of a trip to Ikea are further felt by the need to remove all the staples from cardboard boxes and rip them up into small enough squares for the white, paper bin.
I have since learned his name, but can’t get out of my head that he is Il Colonnello. For awhile, one of the neighbors and I defiantly practiced insubordination by separating our “personal” (non-recyclable) trash and chucking it into the green public bin on the corner.
Then we realized that, too, was crazy. If he wants to go through all of our trash to see whether we’ve missed something to recycle as his only creative outlet, let him have at it.
Milanese, on the whole, are “pretty good recyclers” officials say, though a little lax on rinsing containers. I reckon there are self-appointed rubbish commandos in a lot of buildings, especially since there are fines for misplaced trash.
One of the things about Italy that most Anglo foreigners notice is that Italians don’t keep their distance. If you’re not careful, the neighbors are always in your business, even in a large city.
Sometimes, though, that may be a good thing.