Essays > Village life: Recycling in Flint -- no joy at CBC corral

It always strikes me as ironic and depressing that to get to the CBC Recyling Center you have to turn at the Secret Place Tabernacle Church, which is right down the block from Beauty and the Dollar Store, which is across the street from Austin Collision and the Cloud Nine Bar and Grill.

My husband and I have dolefully packed up the trunk for this Saturday excursion, fighting our resistance to doing the right thing. I know it's the right thing to do. I know, pulling into the muddy lot where grackles pick at garbage and hand scrawled signs tell me where to put my number two plastic and tin cans, somehow this is supposed to help the earth.

But I hate it.

We lug bags of Flint Journals and Sunday New York Times , the pounds of paper we are still fond of because we grew up in a time when reading the morning paper, getting ink on our hands we had to wipe off as we ate our toast, was what grownups did. I should give that up.

The school board election is over now so I can let go of the Journal's editorial advice, I already cut out that recipe for how to reduce fat in chili cheese bites and I've gotten my kicks out of seeing Andy Heller in Will Ferrell's coif. But the paper-filled paper bags are heavy. We grunt and gripe as we toss them into the messy bins, one by one.

We lift out baskets of milk jugs, water bottles and a dozen laundry detergent bottles -- a year's worth of towels and jeans and washable winter sweaters.

I steal a peek across the street at Cloud Nine. It's about 11 a.m. and I wonder if it's open -- if any showgirls are ready to dance.

Tell me, please, why isn't it easier to do the right thing in Flint?

Behind the cages, squished between chunks of concrete and an outbuilding, a young tree, scrappy as a junkyard dog, pokes up. I peer at the leaves to see if I can identify it. Instead, what catches my eye are eight plastic bags lodged in its branches, blown up and abandoned by supposed recyclers who should know very well there's no cage for plastic bags here.

The bags are from Meijer and VG's and Target. They do not look merry. I've already pledged to give up plastic bags, but this seals the deal. Humans are messy. We're at our ugliest here. I hate this dismal place.

Stephanie Reischling, who owns and operates CBC, wouldn't be surprised. "It's not pretty," she says in a later phone conversation.

"People want cutesy cages and everything, but it's been very difficult. We're doing the best we can."

The residential drop-off is part of CBC's adaptation to the closing of the city's drop-off site on 12th Street five years ago. For the first couple of years after the city abruptly locked its recycling lot, people had to switch to CBC's large processing yard which is, Reischling acknowledges, "a no-man's land," not suitable for individual use. She managed to buy property with a small building adjoining the processing lot, and in 2005 opened that up for individual schleppers like me.

They've been swamped.

"Everybody's going green," says Dawn Dolan, Reischling's sister who also works at CBC, adding, on a recent Monday, "I had to empty six cages already this morning."

The "final destiny" of what we drop off at CBC, Reischling says, is recycling mills in Grand Rapids, North Carolina and Kentucky, among other sites, where she says it's made into fleece jackets, shampoo and water bottles and paper, again.

A third-generation Flint resident, Reischling started CBC 15 years ago in the garage of her first house, off Atherton Road.

"We call her Mother Earth," Dolan says. And while the company technically is for-profit, "believe me, there's not much profit in it," Dolan admits.

But Reischling says she's determined to soldier on.

She is passionate about recycling and deeply frustrated by how the city of Flint has resisted and mishandled possibilities for environmental cleanup. Genesee County, she notes, has a measly three percent recycling rate, compared to 25 percent in comparable communities. Flint is the only municipality in the county not doing some sort of recycling, and the city's obdurate refusal to do its part creates havoc for CBC. And the stuff just keeps coming.

"What a stupid, stupid city," I say.

"It's unconscionable," Reischling sighs. "It's awful what we're doing to the next generation."

CBC Recycling is at 115 E. 14th St., Flint (239-5040). Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the first two Saturdays of the month.

It accepts newspapers, tin cans, cardboard, No. 1 and No. 2 plastic, clear and colored glass and, for $5, electronic castoffs.

Patti Warner is a graphic artist who has lived and worked around Flint her entire life. Her varied lines of greeting cards are sold through Tumble Dry Low Cards. Her cards are available throughout Genesee County at Pages Bookstore, Dale's Health Foods, Good Beans Café and in the Flint Farmers' Market at Edna's Spices and Herbs and East End Books and Music.