My Roommate Keeps Throwing Trash into the Recycling

Benny Kim
4 min readFeb 8, 2017


When I was a freshman in college, I worked for the recycling department at my school. My first job was to go into dorm halls and see how well the students were recycling. I’m only supposed to look in trash cans in hallways and common rooms and grade based on the top layer of trash, but I always felt bad if I saw recyclables in the trash or vice versa. So my first night, as I’m digging a banana peel and plastic bag out of the recycling, cute girl I met first week of school opens the door.
I freeze…
I’m holding trash in my hand, it’s 10pm at night, and she just wanted to toss out her water bottle. Instead she found this dude she met once going through her trash. I hope she thinks it’s cute like a raccoon and not like… an evil gremlin.
…3 seconds of silence…
She stares…

The silence has gone on too long. I think to myself that I should say something.

Okay it’s been way too long. Just say anything. Nothing you say can make this situation worse.


Great, good job Benny, real smooth. You really nailed that one.

And that could have been the end of my recycling career. But no, I persevered. Because you can’t just give up on recycling. I fully believe if we all recycled 100%, we could offset the effects of Trump. No math or data behind that, just my wild guess. Actually, it’ll bother me if I don’t do the math. So real quick:

The cost of building the wall is estimated to be around $15 billion. Trump’s immigration ban could cost big tech companies billions in lost value, tourism spending, and education ($700 million a year hit just for colleges!!!). But if we only look at the countries banned, let’s say that only about a seventh of the calculated cost of a total blanket ban. This comes out to about $10 billion. (Probably more but this is a very conservative estimate) Cost to protect Trump in NYC was $35 million for a few days. So let’s say he visits New York a few times over the next year and this goes up to $100 million. And then let’s say that because of the large number of protests literally 10% of the country has to go through every weekend, let’s add another $500 million. So all of this added up is around 25.6 billion.

Now let’s look at recycling. Recycling in the US produces $10 billion worth of goods and services per year. However, only 34.3% of potential recyclables are put in. So, very simply, if all of the US recycled, we could be seeing $29,000,000,000 in benefits from recycling. Probably more since we would also cut down on costs of landfills and other waste disposal, and this doesn’t cover any of the environmental benefits of recycling.

Obviously this is clearly a joke and should never ever be cited as a real mathematical calculation. But I hope it highlights the importance of recycling.

Anyways, here are some basic rules for you to follow. I’m not saying dig through and organize trash (although good for you if you want!) but at least you’ll know enough to make a small impact.

Basic Rules:
Recycling is the process of converting waste into reusable material. By increasing our recycling, we can limit the production of other goods. The recycling in the US has been slightly complicated but we are slowly moving towards more and more single stream recycling.

If you hit it against a wall and it makes a solid thunk noise, then toss it in the recycling! Water bottles, milk jugs, yogurt containers, hard plastic packaging.
Most places won’t accept plastic bags or packaging material like bubble wrap, but it is starting to become more common. Check your local city websites as there may be separate collection sites. And please try to reuse these items whenever possible! If you want to know what the numbers mean on plastics, click here. Also please make sure you clean it and get rid of all food waste or separate it from non recyclables. Entire batches of recycled goods can be tossed out if there is contamination.

Pretty much all paper. Cardboard, notebooks, newspaper. Just no pizza boxes because there’s too much grease on the box.

Glass and aluminum: also safe to recycle, but again, make sure they’re clear of food waste.

Other things to keep in mind: Try out composting. Take reusable bags grocery shopping. Look up battery collection sites in your area. And overall, consume less. Stop yourself right before a purchase and think “Can I get this used? Can I get it somewhere else? Do I actually need it?” At the end of the day, just think about what is best for your neighborhood, your community and your planet. You’re not here by yourself and we each have a part to play.

Oh and by the way, me and that girl ended up dating for 2 years because she loved that I cared about the environment. LOL jokes, she thought I was a creeper but nothing will stop me!



Benny Kim

Electrical Engineer at Tank Utility, M.S. Candidate in Innovation and Management, BSEE Tufts University ’16. Oh God what else is there? Should I mention my hobb