The Truest Test of Moral Character Is How Thoroughly You Rinse Your Recycling

How we treat our trash reveals the state of our souls
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Any time we make a choice we face an ethical dilemma. Drive to work or bike? Buy a new stereo or donate to the ACLU? Order the assassination of your half-brother in order to preserve unchallenged control of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or allow him to live as a potential threat to your regime? We are each the sum total of our daily decisions, the smallest of which serve as indicators of character. As such, the ultimate litmus test of moral purity is this: How thoroughly do you clean your recyclables before tossing them into the blue bin? Each of us falls into one of four categories.

1. People who don’t even recycle

When Jesus was dying on the cross and said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” he was referring, broadly, to people who don’t recycle. While the rest of us are hard at work feeling concerned about the environment and angrily @-ing Scott Pruitt on Twitter, these people are busy sending perfectly salvageable Tide bottles off to the landfill. They’re the types who, in the words of Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, “contribute nothing to their salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” They might not seem evil, but do not be deceived—their inherent depravity has led them down the wide road of lethal nonchalance. When the Day of Reckoning comes, they will be found without excuse.

2. People who don’t really… ever… rinse their recycling

These types keep a recycling bin next to the trash can, but that’s the extent of their virtue. They’ll toss anything in to be recycled. Unrinsed jars of four-months-expired Pace salsa? Recycle! Greasy pizza boxes gummed up with coagulated cheese and shriveled olives? Recycle that ish! Watermelon rind? Just toss that in the general direction of the trash can, and if it ends up in the recycling, so be it! Eighty-three percent of indiscriminate recyclers are sophomore marketing majors named Kyle, but the rest come in all stripes. It’s not that they’re bad people, per se. They just ignore the consequences of their ultimately self-defeating actions.

3. People who give their recycling a decent rinse

Holding an empty yogurt container under the faucet and swirling some water in it for approx. 2.83 seconds fulfills the legal definition of “rinsing” (13 U.S.C. § 3298) even if it leaves that ring of yellowish crusty stuff around the rim. So that’s how these people operate. Because they have strong moral compasses, they feel slightly guilty about recycling Corona bottles with mashed up limes still plunking around in the bottoms—but not thaaaat guilty. They’re generally compassionate types who recognize our collective responsibility to promote human flourishing, and they sporadically volunteer to deliver sack lunches to the homeless. They do enough good to offset the fact that they only half-assedly rinse their ketchup bottles.

4. People who obsessively wash their recycling

There are people out there who wash their recycling as thoroughly as they wash their own dishes. You might think these people are sinless demigods descended from heaven above, but you couldn’t be more wrong. These people are serial killers.

You really think they scour Tapatio bottles with a toothbrush because they care about the environment? No, they do it because they’ve developed a habit of extreme meticulousness from scrubbing blood out of the grout in the showers where they dismember their victims. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wait, but my wife frequently takes a bottle scrub to empty salad dressing bottles, and surely she’s not a killer,” I have terrible news. Don’t look now, but she’s standing behind you with a 10-inch fillet knife in one hand and a spotless peanut butter jar that smells faintly of Mrs. Meyer’s lavender dish soap in the other hand, and your only hope now is to throw the half-full can of Diet Dr. Pepper you’re holding into the recycling bin to distract her and RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

Thomas Harlander is a staff writer at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram. He recently wrote: A Treatise on Courtesy Tongs and Why They Need to Be Banned