Saturday, February 18, 2012

(Trying to) Do the Right Thing

"Do the right thing." It was a mantra of my crowd when I was a teenager. I'm not sure why, and I'm not even sure what it meant. Certainly we weren't a gang of do-gooders. We were decent kids with good hearts for the most part. But we also acted like teenagers. If each of us helped an old lady across the street at least once, we had a similar track record of sneaking into the local movie theater.

Anyway, when I came upon some old prescription meds from my late dogs this week I tried to do the right thing. I know flushing them is a bad idea, as is tossing them in the trash. Some environmental-minded communities collect pills for proper disposal, but my rural area does not. So I called a pharmacy to see if they would take my old pills. The pharmacist said they wouldn't, but the State Police would.

So I called the State Police. The officer was very nice, but said they wouldn't either. He told me that a neighboring county collected hazardous materials, but they wouldn't take anything from my county. He said, "Why don't you just flush 'em?" I said, "Because I don't want pharmaceuticals in my well water." He then said maybe the hospital pharmacy would take my old pills.

The hospital pharmacist was very nice, but said they wouldn't. He had another suggestion for me: Burn the pills, plastic bottle and all, in my woodstove. He sounded quite pleased with his suggestion. Ugh.

Why is it so hard to do the right thing for the environment? I know in some cities it isn't hard, but there are areas—like mine—that really need to catch up. My family recycles, but around here it isn't easy. Until recently we had to separate the different kinds of plastics and the different color glass bottles, and remember to take them to the nearest collection site on the right day of the month. That was always a roll of the dice, and I often ended up with a garage full of recycling while I waited for the appointed day to roll around in the following month. Then I discovered that another county had single-stream recycling. We bag up all the glass and plastics together and put the newspapers in paper bags*, and I load up my SUV and take everything to the recycling center, which is 26 miles away. It's convenient for me because it's near several stores that I visit about once a month.

But how many people will do this? We don't go to a lot of trouble, but I suspect it's more trouble than a lot of people are willing to go to. Recycling is important. Proper disposal of hazardous materials is important. Our local governments should give these things some priority. Meanwhile, I still have my dogs' old pills. They've become a symbol.

*Paper bags! I tried to get some from a supermarket to use for recycling, but they were literally snatched out of my cart by an officious employee. This was so completely unexpected that I didn't react as I should have (taking the person's name, etc.). I told this story to a friend who lives in another state, and she stuffed a Priority Mail flat-rate box FULL of paper grocery bags and shipped them to me. Good friends make up for a lot.