Tuesday, July 17, 2007
If you commute to work on public transportation in a city, you're probably very familiar with your city's commuter paper(s). When I lived in Chicago, it was the RedEye ; here in DC, it's the Express. That day's edition of the major paper (The Washington Post , in this case) is shrunk down and dumbed down into a quick and easy read. There are kiosks everywhere with big stacks of them for free, and sometimes there'll even be people handing them out to you as you walk into the train, making sure thousands of copies get distributed to commuters.
I read the Express. It's hardly a mind-stimulating exercise, but it gives me a general overview of most of the news of the day, and pretty good coverage of what festivals/shows/concerts/etc are going on in the city, plus various odd tidbits I can call on for small talk at a later date. Plus, the length is almost perfect for me-- unless there's a particularly large inset, I'm at the back of the paper in the celebrity gossip section by the end of my 20-minute ride. And since I drink my morning coffee at work, I'm not usually up for much heavy thinking pre-caffeine anyway, so the Express is just about right.
However, I make it a point of never taking a copy of the Express on my way into the train station. Instead, I purposefully board the Metro car at the opposite end of where I plan to sit and walk the length of the train car, scanning the empty seats and floors for a copy of the Express lying around that I can grab. I probably find one about 75% of the time, and if I don't, I just sit with my thoughts for the ride. Reading the Express is not so important to me that I need to waste another copy in order to have a guaranteed read. (Yes, I know that the copies are already printed, so it's not directly wasteful, but there must be some sort of research they do on how many copies are used that helps them decide how many to print, so it's indirect earth-friendliness, really!)
The catch comes at the end of the ride. My policy has always been just to leave the paper on the train-- that's where I got it, that's where I should leave it, right? But I was talking to my boyfriend about this the other day, and he disagreed. "That's littering," he said. "You're cluttering up the train, making a mess for other people rather than cleaning up after yourself."
I explained my whole rationale. "But there will be other people who want to read the paper! If I toss my perfectly good paper in the recycling bin, they will have to get a brand new one. There are these huge garbage bins packed full of papers at the train exits. I know they're going to be recycled, but still, it seems so wasteful."
"If they were going to get a brand new one, they'd have already done it by the time they see if your paper's there or not. If you're so concerned about the paper being reused, why don't you just put it back in the kiosk on your way out? That way it's more likely to actually get reused. And it's better than littering."
"But... but... it's like a social contract! We don't pick up new papers because we know there will be old ones on the train. If I helped decrease the number of papers on the train, that would cause people to reevaluate their plans and probably use more new papers in the long run. Besides, it's not messy litter. I fold it up nicely and put it between the seat and the wall. It wouldn't bother you if you weren't looking for it."
At which point he sighed, gave me a look, and then gave up.
But it has kind of stuck with me. Am I one piece of a larger whole, or is this just something in my own head? If I am really one of the only people who doesn't take a new paper because there will be used papers available to me, then the benefit of leaving the paper on the train to help conserve resources doesn't outweigh the fact that I'm cluttering up the train for other passengers and making more of a mess for the staff to clean up, and I should take my paper with me and put it back in the kiosk. But if other people think like me, and there really does need to be a critical mass of papers left on the train to keep the whole cycle going, then I am one piece of a group that's working together to share and conserve resources, and that's pretty cool.
So I thought I would draw on the wisdom and experience of the public transit riders who read Money and Values. Whether you live in DC or not, have you come across this situation? Do people leave papers on the train in your city, and do other people read them? Or even if it's not from personal experience, does my thought process make sense or does it sound crazy to you?
And yes, I know that either way it isn't a big deal and I am probably over-thinking this! I'm just curious now...