in which I think about recycling, condoms, and my freezer

This bag is full of things to be recycled:


Here is one of the only public recycling bins I’ve seen in Abu Dhabi (there is no mandatory recycling program):

Here is what I’ve seen in the water off the Corniche:

The few times I’ve been lucky enough to go paddle-boarding, I’ve scooped so many plastic bags, beer cans, and other detritus out of the water that my board looks like a small garbage scow.

There are a few recycling bins in our building but no one knows whether the carefully sorted bottles and cans actually end up at the recycling plant or are tossed in with the regular trash. We suspect the latter—and, as a result, we’ve kind of given up. We (and many of our neighbors) have given up hope and toss our plastic containers and cereal boxes down the trash chute with the old banana peels and chicken bones.

Old habits die hard, though, so the soda cans and milk bottles find their way into a separate bag, where they wait for…well, sometimes the cleaning lady dumps the bag into the trash, and sometimes I lug the bag out to the Corniche recycle bin and hope for the best.

It’s not even that I’m such a militant recycler. I’ve never put a brick in my toilet tank to displace water and thus create a more water-efficient flusher, for instance.  It’s true that back in New York, I got all excited about composting, but mostly that was to fool myself into thinking I had a garden, or at very least a back yard, when in fact all I had were a few window boxes.  (Plus the community composting bins were only about a block away. If I’d had to lug that stinky bag of rotten food more than a block, I think my composting spirit would’ve died on the vine).

Abu Dhabi wants to be a world-class city and there are glimmers that the people in charge understand that “world class” doesn’t just mean lots of tall glass buildings.  A few years ago, the government drafted the “2030” development plan, which called for investments in infrastructure, cultural centers, and education.  There was some language in this plan about environmental awareness, but from what I can see, right now what the city has is…language: the promise of more recycling plants being built (there is currently one plant in the entire country), a few banners hung around extolling environmental stewardship, ads for new (huge) skyscrapers claiming that they will be “green” when they’re finished, despite no visible evidence of this fact.

Until we got here, I hadn’t realized that recycling has become second nature.  So much so, in fact, that every single time I throw something away that in the States would have gone into a recycling container, I get a little twinge.  A little moment of “you’re not in Kansas any more, sweetie.” And that, in turn, creates a rather ugly little dialogue in my head, about how “We” do it right and “They” don’t get it, so “We” should teach “Them” how to be more responsible about the environment.

It’s an ugly dialogue because, of course, it’s not as if the recycle-happy US has figured out how to care for the environment. (Hello Kyoto protocol anyone? Hello “global warming is just a theory”?)  How do you educate an entire society to stop throwing their crap wherever they want, so that, for instance, when you’re swimming in the Gulf and your kid yells “jellyfish” and runs onto the beach, you’re not confronted with…two used condoms drifting slowly through the water? Lovely.  So glad you had a good time last night, dude. Twice, apparently. Kudos.

Here’s my own little recycling crisis: we have plastic water bottles. We seem to collect them at every turn, despite the fact that we all have our own reusable bottles. I don’t trust the recycling bins and I can’t bring myself to throw the bottles in the garbage.  So I just…keep them.  I’ve got an entire archipelago of plastic bottles on my counter:

I fill them with water and freeze them. I’m hoping that the city will develop some kind of real recycling program before my freezer fills up, because then I’d have to get a new freezer, and I don’t have room in my kitchen.