I watch people.

Well, let me rephrase that: I watch people when they throw their items away. The classic moment when they stand in front of two or three bins (usually compost, recycling, landfill) deciding where things go. Many times, I see people let out a heavy sigh and just throw everything into one bin.

This is followed with a sigh of my own. And then a question: Do people realize the amount of money and resources that they are throwing away when putting everything into the trash? Or do they ever wonder what really happens to it in the end?

I am also curious: if I disguised that rigid/hard plastic container as a dollar bill or two, would their actions and investment in getting it into the right bin change? What if an image popped up that showed that specific pile of materials as trash in the ocean with an animal or two caught in it – would that change their behavior?

I have to bite my tongue (and on occasion, fail to do so) when I see someone toss an empty water bottle into a landfill bin. I want to say: please think of all those natural resources that went into that one plastic bottle – all the water, electricity, fossil fuels, and human power – all of that is now wasted. Imagine if we did that with cars – we buy a car, drive it to our destination, and just toss it. The vehicle (literally and figuratively) that provides either nutrients or assists us, just discarded.

I am not going to lie: I have a reputation at work and quite a few nicknames. I am known to go through individual and central recycling, compost, and landfill bins – and if there is an error, most commonly that Starbucks cup in the wrong bin, I will play detective (if needed) and find the person and have a conversation with them.

Do I like that I create fear in my coworkers when it comes to them disposing of their materials? Not really (OK, maybe a little, LOL). Do I enjoy that my coworkers find me to tell me a new person has been hired and needs to have the recycling spiel so they learn – why, yes; yes I do! What do I also enjoy? That many have told me that they now stop and think about where the item should go while at the bins. They stop and think about where I would put the item. Pretty great, right?

But figuring out how to change one’s habit (or at least attempt to convince them to change their habit) and begin to actually rethink the “easy” action of throwing something into one bin varies from individual to individual.

Sometimes it’s hard to win other people’s hearts and minds to do the “right” thing instead of the “easy” thing, especially if you are challenging them to change lifelong habits. If you have any suggestions, please send them my way.

And just when you think you make progress, you try to slowly back away to watch them succeed. And what happens? You come back onto the scene a few weeks later and find a bunch of electronics in the trash. Why? Because they just wanted it off the counter and didn’t want to walk downstairs to dispose of them properly. It leaves you wondering what else you can do! And I know they are reading this right now ... and know I am talking about them.

I honestly believe recycling and composting is a selfish thing to do. You are only ensuring your own health, safety, and clean environment – for you and your family, friends, and fellow living creatures.

I find it so interesting that many of us will bend down to pick up a stray quarter and yet most do not even think when they throw the equivalent or more of natural resources into a landfill bin rather than reusing or recycling a new item and providing jobs to those around us.

My holiday wishes?

Try composting at that next get-together. When you are cooking, collect those meal prep and food scraps (on the plate) and put them into your brown compost cart. Use reusables. Don’t buy plastic plates or single-use disposal utensils (trash). Add more vegetables and reduce meat a bit (check out virtual water in food – 2,500 gallons of water for one beef patty!). Invest in some adorable cloth napkins instead of using paper towels. If you do use paper towels, compost them! Read that label – is it fair trade? Animal cruelty free? A B-Corp company?

Visit NapaRecycling.com and check out our beautiful free signage, our new Recycling Guide, and learn some tips and tricks to make your holiday season a bit less … trashy.

And reduce, reuse, recycle, rebuy. And compost, of course.

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This monthly column is written by Kendra Bruno, aka Compost Girl, who is the waste prevention specialist for the city of Napa. To submit questions, email kbruno@cityofnapa.org.