School Silliness: “I need your recycling.”

Another story about a teacher.

There’s lots of ways to save or make extra money. Some people have a side hustle. Others use coupons. I knew a teacher (let’s call her Ms. Allen) that went around to classrooms at the end of the day and collected cans and plastic bottles from the recycling bins.

“I need your recycling,” she would say.

Of course, she had to root through all the miscellaneous garbage that students threw in there, as well. Teenagers apparently don’t care much for the distinction between garbage, paper recycling, and bottle recycling. One day she even found a mini liquor bottle (in another classroom…not mine) like the kind that you get at hotels or on airplanes. Whether or not it was deposited in there by a student or teacher, I dunno.

At first, I just thought Ms. Allen was doing her part to help the environment. However, I began to notice that she only collected cans and bottles. Nothing else. When I asked her, she said she was financing a trip for her daughter to go to California.

“Dimes to Disney” as Ms. Allen called it.

If you want it, then you gotta earn it!

It makes perfect sense when you think about it. When you take cans or bottles to a recycling machine at your local supermarket, in Oregon, you’ll get 10 cents per can/bottle which you can redeem from the cashier. Of course, the problem is that those machines usually don’t accept all of your friggin’ cans. For some reason they’re really picky and they won’t accept this type of can or that type of bottle. In my experience, they don’t like Arizona Iced Tea or Hawaiian Sun cans. So I just quit buying those.

Lessons Learned

I suppose Ms. Allen was simply being economical about the whole process. She taught economics, so it follows. I’m no economist (unlike Ms. Allen), but I do know that economics is essentially the study of wants and needs, or choices and alternatives, and the decisions we make with regard to those. Ms. Allen’s daughter wants to go to Disneyland, but money doesn’t grow on trees. True, a plane ticket from PDX to LAX probably isn’t outrageously expensive and money could be saved up to buy one, but I suspect Ms. Allen had a different decision-making process in mind. Undoubtedly, it would take you a long time and a lot of cans and bottles to accrue the necessary money for a trip to Disneyland, and it’s not a terribly efficient method, but the lesson here is one of perseverance, environmentalism, and economics.

I tell my students that a relatively easy way to make some extra spending money is to run around their neighborhood and collect recyclables. It helps the environment and you can pocket some $$. Heck, sometimes you’ll see homeless people do that, as well. Funny enough, there’s a scene in the 2011 film Bad Teacher where Cameron Diaz’s character, Elizabeth Halsey, goes around collecting the school’s recycling to fund her breast implants. That being said, Ms. Halsey also embezzles money from the school’s car wash and engages in numerous illegal and unethical practices throughout the film. I wouldn’t recommend that. She would face serious disciplinary action in real life, even back then. In fact, I’m willing to bet Ms. Halsey would have her teaching license revoked, but I don’t know how things work in the State of Illinois where the film is set.

Anyway movies aside, remember that economics is not about making money. That’s personal finances. In this case, the economics is that you give up some time to go around and collect bottles and cans which are fairly common. Then you take those to the recycling machine and get a few cents for each one. If you’re really detail-oriented then you could consider the fact that you burn gas to get to and from the store to recycle these things, wear down the soles of your shoes a little bit, burn some calories, touch dirty bottles and cans, etc. Yet, those are all choices we make.

As for me, I pick up loose change where I find it. Even the pennies. At the end of the year when I dump out the loose change bowl, I usually find that I have a few hundred dollars in there. My local supermarket has a change machine, so I redeem all the coins for bills and keep it as petty cash.

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