As a first example of a utopian gesture, I present the most beautiful and ideal collection of recycling bins I have ever seen. In fact, it seems unfair to refer to the collection of such a wide variety of objects at one location in such nicely designed containers as simply recycling. It is more like a recycling station or miniature recycling center—it collects a wide variety of things in six different major categories.
- Pull-top cans: soft drinks, Sprite cans, beer cans, Coke cans
- Paper products: books, magazines, newspapers, old papers
- Plastic drink bottles: Coke bottles, mineral water bottles, fruit juice bottles, purified water bottles
- Other rubbish: old broken ceramic things, cigarette butts, dust, single-use food containers
- In addition there are specific areas between the larger receptacles for accepting used batteries and cigarette butts
While the types of things collected are not that unusual by recycling standards, the excellence with which the collection site was designed and the beautiful balance of colors, icons and text is outstanding. The careful mix of the general and the specific—soft drink cans and Coke and Sprite cans. The wonderful geometric balance of the two pairs of larger receptacles and considered alternation of the smaller narrow sections nicely frames the pleasing geometric shapes of the receptacle openings.
I came upon these some weeks ago on a bicycle ride and they stopped me in their tracks with their compelling command of order. In this little area of the world, everything has its place. When faced with these recycling bins there is order and harmony and perhaps even world-saving confidence. In fact, it is so organized that you might even believe that costs the act of consumption can be entirely recovered.
Of course, the fine design of these recycling bins only exaggerates the utopian gesture of recycling itself, right? The mining of ancient bauxite rocks from which aluminum can be refined and manufactured into metal cans, the pollution that is created as part of this process, and the cost and labor time of manufacture seem on one level an obscene creation when made to simply contain a single serving of bubbly water containing chemically transformed starchy corn, caffeine and carmel color. This historical view of an object at the level of geology and deep time for a fleetingly brief period as a consumable by humans is central to what media theorist Jussi Parikka has compellingly described as an aspect of the anthroobscene.
When one cracks open a can of ice cold Coke and swills down 12 ounces before tossing the can in the trash—the gesture of recycling is the least one can do to atone for the act of obscene waste. The unknown designer of these recycling station seems to have taken this act of atonement seriously and has created an ideal place to which the consumer can travel to make the remains of their act disappear into a seemingly seamless stream of recycling redemption.