WWYD: Bring Bottles In Yourself Or Leave Them for the Less Fortunate

There’s a large and ever-growing bag in my kitchen filled with empty cans and bottles that need to be recycled. Not too far from my house is a place where I could take them, insert them into a machine, and in exchange receive cash. Small increments of cash, but still, cash, the stuff one buys more cans and bottles with. The obvious thing to do is to trot down to the store with the bag of empties and exchange them for money, right?

But wait. Along my street several times a week come people who are less fortunate than I am. They open up the bags of garbage in the bins and dig through, looking for redeemables. Then they move to the recycling and repeat the process. They add whatever they find to huge bags they lug with them in shopping carts, or carry over their shoulders like dystopian Santas.

To make their lives easier, I bring my bottles out in a separate bag and hang the bag on the fence where they can see it and grab it easily — no dumpster diving necessary. Lots of people in the neighborhood do this; it’s a small and doable act of charity, like swiping someone into the subway as you exit using your unlimited card. Lately, though, I’ve wondered whether I’m being stupid. After all, I have holes in my socks and my underwear and my sweaters; I’m stressed about replacing the boots I had to throw out after seven years. I’m stressed about everything, in fact. Would it be smarter to take the bottles in myself? Is leaving them out charity or laziness, or even a kind of disgusting upper-class luxury? Am I overthinking? (I’m always overthinking.)

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