May 15, 2012

Talking trash

It is NOT always easy to be green.

Philadelphia knows how to recycle
Some cities know how to encourage recycling. Here's a funky recycling truck in Philadelphia that PT's art students designed. Talk about eye-catching.

Did you know that the average American generates more than 7 pounds of garbage each day—twice what we generated in 1960? That adds up to each of us leaving a whopping trash legacy of 102 tons on our planet over a lifetime. That is $50 billion in squandered riches off to landfills each year.

I doubt I can convince my book club friends to read the recently published book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, by Pulitzer Prize winning Edward Humes. But I am getting a refresher look at America’s biggest export, $8 billion worth of scrap paper and metal heading off in container ships yearly, most of it to China.

That is our greatest untapped opportunity of the century. There is a 96 percent energy savings from reprocessing aluminum, 21 percent for glass, 45 percent for newsprint, and more than 75 percent for common plastics (Popular Mechanics).

“But I recycle” you say. Oscar the Grouch, who lives in a garbage can, knows the truth. Just half of the U.S. population recycles daily, and 13 percent do not recycle at all. Only about 33 percent of almost 40 billion glass bottles, and as few as 27 percent of more than 70 billion plastic bottles, are recycled each year (EPA estimate). About 4 million tons of plastic elude landfills and recycling plants each year, much of it ultimately washing into our oceans.

The U.S. recycles far less than most developed nations. We have an average recycling rate of 24 percent and send about 69 percent to landfills. On the other hand, Germany, Austria and Denmark send less than 4 percent to landfills, because they burn what is not recycled in modern low-emission trash -to-energy plants.

And lots of folks still break the “rules” by including plastic bags and non-#1 and #2 plastic bottles in their curbside bins. Those dadgum plastic bags belong in the collection bins in most grocery stores—NOT around the moving parts of the recycling conveyor belts.

And it is definitely NOT easy to be green when elected folks occasionally set up barriers. The York County Supervisors’ ill-conceived plan to charge homeowners who recycle at the curb more than $6 per month is a step backward—even if you consider the county budget. Yes, someone needs to pay for curbside recycling. But ticked-off residents who then choose to toss all their stuff in the trash will generate an increase in the “tipping fee” at the landfill. So it’s pay here, or pay there. Penny wise, pound foolish!

Plus, I hate to see recycling habits broken. Asking folks to drop off their recyclables at a county site is what we did back in the ‘80s.