Recycle for a lifetime

Published 10:35 am Wednesday, August 24, 2022

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When I look back, growing up on the Intracoastal waterway just north of Wilmington, NC, we recycled before it was popular but didn’t realize it was “recycling.”


Our driveway was constructed of layers of oyster shells from years of wonderful backyard oyster roasts. My dad didn’t haul them off or put them in the trash. It was the crushed basis for us to park on, never knowing the benefit to the soi, getting all that nitrogen from the decaying shells.

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In addition to all the seafood we caught, we had a 13-acre farm and my dad grew watermelon, cantaloupe and vegetables. My mother didn’t go to the grocery store and bring home pounds of plastic bags and plastic containers. We did eat the occasional TV dinner and then the containers went to freezing leftovers. We saved jelly jars for canning and reused milk cartons to freeze seafood. We didn’t buy paper towels, fabric was just fine and looked nice too. Who knew we were in a habit of REDUCE-REUSE-RECYCLE?


Why do I recycle? My initial answer is “How can I not?” I became aware of the “recycle” trend in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The trash company in AZ offered the recycle cans for an additional fee. I felt responsible to participate but didn’t have a clue where all that stuff ended up.


In 2008, 11 years into my full-time, real estate career in Arizona, I completed the first ever “GREEN®” designation offered by the National Association of Realtors, becoming the first GREEN® REALTOR in Arizona. This course opened my eyes, not only to the benefits of building a home that saves you money, but creating a healthier place to live. I became more aware of the benefit of recycling and began focusing on how it benefits our planet.


In 2016, we relocated to Oak Island, NC. In 2017, I became the Secretary of the Town of Oak lsland’s Environmental Advisory Committee, serving a 3-year term. One of my passions on this committee was to educate the community about recycling. On a coastal island was quite the challenge to educate everyone. Most of the year the island is occupied by vacationers and they came with just an understanding of how their city recycles. Education was the key!


I engaged with the local professionals in the recycling business. I toured the Wilmington sorting facility where the island’s local recycling went first. The objective there was to sort out paper, glass and aluminum for the containers they prepared to sell. I then toured the Jacksonville sorting facility where the overflow of the Island’s recycle materials from the Wilmington sorting facility went (mostly plastics). I discovered that there are numerous businesses making a difference in our country, and beyond, recycling the “clean” items. What I also discovered was the education that was necessary to make sure that what goes into the recycle

bin is “clean” recycle. If you have never visited a sorting facility- GO! Education is the key!


In 2019 I found out that my alma mater, UNC-Wilmington, purchased equipment to recycle styrofoam (the curved peanuts and solid foam board that comes in packaging and shipping). The equipment they purchased melted down the styrofoam pieces into 12″ X 12″ X 2.5″ squares that stacked and shipped well. Their efforts lead them to a company in NC that is purchasing their squares and creating new products.


This past June we moved to Columbus to enjoy retirement in the foothills of NC. I was excited that recycling is so easy here. I love the weekly drop-off sites as well as the Polk County facility just up the road. My goal is to visit the local sorting facility for our county and find out how I can help make a difference.


My thanks to all the volunteers and paid staff for making themselves available so the area residents can recycle. Recycling makes a difference!


Gail Johnson