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.


crystal said...

I know what you mean about it being hard to do the right thing - it often seems like everything exists to make that harder instead of easier.

Here we're lucky - we have a recycle garbage can that gets picked up every other week and you don't have to sort stuff. And the nearby Whole Foods market recycles a lot of different things - you can bring them with you when ou go shopping and leave them there.

Have you tried googling recycle drugs for your state? I just did it for mine and saw that they have a map showing all the places where you can drop off old drugs - maybe your state has one too.

Dona said...

I, too, know what you mean. We recycled before the county picked up recycling, but it was much easier than your experience. We just went to a close-by recycling center and fed the big containers with happy faces painted on them our cans and bottles.

My biggest problem is getting my husband on-board. He didn't think that our recycling was helping anyone and resisted -- just as he resists buying organic and environment and body friendly foods now.

Bridgett said...

My dad resisted recycling until the city put single stream dumpsters in the alleys. It's too easy not to, now.

As for drugs, I'm at a loss--our pharmacy (a CVS, not something grand and special) takes them for us. Though we rarely have anything leftover.

Indigo Bunting said...

Thanks for sharing this story. We all have this problem in one way or another. You've presented the problem so well!

Eulalia Benejam Cobb said...

The story of my present life! The one reason I'm sorry I moved to Vermont! Every single physical object that comes into our house--junk mail, plastic bag, tin can, banana peel--has to be physically disposed of (and the disposing paid for) by us in some way. We do it, but we grit our teeth. One good thing: the system does make us think twice before we let stuff cross our threshold.

I'd love to know what eventually happens to your dogs' old meds.

Susan said...

Crystal, thanks for the tip. I tried it, and came up with a fat zero. However, I learned yesterday that a local pharmacy is having a "collection day" in April. That was good news.

Dona, your husband's position sounds like one many people have voiced about voting ("My vote isn't going to make a difference.") That would be true if only one person felt that way and acted on it. But the numbers add up.

I posted something related (and alarming) on FB today: a list of the 5 worst artificial sweeteners. I'm always down on these anyway, but I had no idea that sucralose (Splenda) passes through the body and winds up in wastewater treatment plants, where it can't be broken down. It has shown up in surface water. You can read the whole paragraph here. It's frightening, but deserves publicity.