three crushed plastic bottles on white background

How Recycling Taught Me the Value of Hard Work

My job as a professional writer gives me the opportunity to hone in on certain topics that I write frequently about. One such topic is recycling. While writing a recent series of posts about it, I was reminded of my own experience growing up and how recycling taught me the value of hard work.

I am in my late 50s. I was born into a very large family to parents who did not have a lot of money. As a child, we recycled paper and glass to bring in extra money. My family got so proficient at recycling that we eventually made enough extra money to take a family trip. And yet the thing I remember most is learning how to work.

Hop on the Back of the Truck

Whenever school was not in session – which is to say during the summer months and on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter breaks – my siblings and I would spend our mornings collecting newspaper and glass from the curb.

We would put the tailgate on my father’s pickup truck down, take a seat (it was the 1970s, so it was legal back then), and ride to whatever neighborhood had their trash out that particular day. Then we would go from house to house as we foraged for glass and paper.

Saturday mornings were spent driving around town to a variety of restaurants that were kind enough to save their empty liquor bottles for us. Saturday afternoons were spent packing newspapers into brown bags and crushing the glass before transporting it to a warehouse for storage. Whenever we had enough paper or glass to constitute a full load, we would take it off to the recycling center and turn it into cash.

The Work Was Hard

My siblings and I all pitched in as soon as we were able to do the work. I can’t tell you how old I was when my turn came, I just know that it was before my brain started forming conscious memories. The recycling memories I do have date back to elementary school. What I remember most was how hard the work was. It was physically demanding.

I don’t begrudge my parents for enlisting us to do the work. In fact, I appreciate them for it. Hard work is good for the soul. It is good for the mind and body. When a person learns to work hard, he also learns to support himself rather than holding a hand out.

I had my first legal job when I turned 16. In the four decades since, I have been unemployed multiple times. But I have never collected unemployment insurance. Not once. Every time I was out of a job, I still found a way to earn money while I searched for a new one. I knew how to work even without employment. That made the difference.

People Still Do It Today

It is nice to know that people still make money by recycling. According to Tennessee-based Seraphim Plastics, there isn’t much call for consumer plastics despite industrial plastic recycling being alive and well. But people still recycle paper and glass.

They also recycle aluminum, copper, and a variety of other metals recyclers are interested in. Some collect beer and soda cans and turn them in for the deposit money. Maybe the average guy on the street isn’t making himself filthy rich by recycling, but he is still working hard and putting some cash in his pocket. In a day and age when so many people want life handed to them on a silver platter, how can that be bad?