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Sunday, February 15. 2015
From the article:
A friend researched where our local recyling goes. It all goes to a landfill in West Virginia, along with the rest of the garbage.
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I taught environmental engineering (and waste management) for 37 years. The key question in any recycling operation is, Will anyone pay me for this stuff? If the answer is yes, then recycling has social, economic and environmental value and should. If the answer is no, then the project is suspect. You might actually justify it on so environmental grounds, but that is an empirical question, not an ideological question.
At present, what seems to work is iron and steel, aluminum (cans and structural members, not foil) and asphalt pavement (for the aggregate). Paper is highly problematic, but regulations on paper production mandate some usage. Clothing given to charitable organizations usually provides some benefit to the ultimate recipients and can be justfied on Christian grounds.
The best single source for waste management and recycling is William Rathke and Cullen Murphy, "Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage," HarpersCollins (1992). Numbers (which I won't dignify as data) from the EPA are highly tendentious and unreliable.
I quit recycling when for the umpteenth time i got to the bins and they are overflowing as usual. They fine you if you leave it on the ground in front of containers. Since we are rural it is expected that we drive around to find recycling containers that arent overflowing, burning pprecious fossil fuels in the process.
It probably keeps the retired folks who have nothing better to do busy though.
I had a friend whose firm did the accounting for the local garbage collector. He told me that on multiple occasions he saw the "recycled" material go int the same landfill as the "normal" garbage. Oh, how our Liberal friends like to pretend that they are doing good. One of my neighbors once told me that by recycling he was "saving the planet".
I understood that it is a sacrament for enviros years ago, and hope the idea keeps circulating. It the symbolic and participatory aspect is greater than the practical value.
For those of us who already had a religion, this is especially annoying.
Penn and Teller have a great episode on this.
The city of Portland Oregon began mandated recycling of kitchen waste a few years ago. They compost it in huge piles. But of course no one wanted these huge piles of composting kitchen waste near them so they had to put them a 50 mile round trip away from the city. So how much fossil fuel does one of these garbage trucks use to travel 50 miles?
But the story gets worse. After a couple of years they had these huge piles of composted waste that no one wanted and they outgrew the area they had designated for it all. The Greens being ever brilliant decided to truck it another 200 miles to a remote place and simply pile it up on some "empty" land. Again how much fossil fuel does it take to drive a 400 mile round trip or thousands of 400 mile round trips?
Another seemingly wasteful practice I often see are the flat bed trucks of baled cardboard. Since I travel these roads I can see that they travel between 600 and 800 miles that I know of. I don't know what the commercial value of a truck load of baled cardboard is but can it possibly be greater then the cost to handle and transport it 600 miles?
"A friend researched where our local recyling goes. It all goes to a landfill in West Virginia, along with the rest of the garbage."
Same in my area. The "recycle" stuff ends up in the landfill with the garbage. That doesn't stop them from fining people who don't separate items properly. My neighbor didn't believe me when I told him this. Then one morning we were both outside when the garbage truck picked up our stuff. Yard waste, recycleables and garbage were all picked up by the same truck and dumped into the same hopper in the truck. He believes me now. It's a jobs program for sorters who probably couldn't do anything else, a big paycheck for the administrators, a source of kickbacks from the haulers to the politicians, and it makes fools think they are being "green."
I have always believed that one should "walk gently this green earth". To that end, we had a "suds-saver" on the washer, used the clothesline when possible, and recycled what we could. And lived fairly frugally, so some of that was definitely "making a virtue out of necessity".
These days, we have a green bin (recyclables) and another bin for the rest. City Council threatens to bring in a third bin for "compost" or like substances: that's where the kitty litter (used) will go.
The best single source for waste management and recycling is William Rathke and Cullen Murphy, "Rubbish: The Archaeology of Garbage," HarpersCollins (1992).
Agreed. It should be the gold standard for any waste/rubbish discussion, yet is routinely ignored by the illiterati...
Thank You, you captured it in a nutshell.
Nicely encapsulated and short enough to fling at a Greenie. Long enough to justify ending with another sip of your cocktail.
We live in the sticks, with no recycling laws (or even opportunities) of any kind. Our neighbors faithfully save up their recyclables and take them to Austin whenever they go, or send them back with visitors from Austin. No one wants to know what happens to the recyclables after that, but it makes my neighbors feel good, and they're nice people. They're big Global Warming believers, too, and it just upsets them to talk about it, so we don't.
We have a separate trashcan in the kitchen for compostable foodstuffs and paper. It goes in a compost bin outside and makes fine potting soil after a year or two, depending on the rainfall. We put garden clippings in the same bin. Cardboard boxes get broken down and deployed as mulching material in the garden. All other trash goes in an ordinary trashcan that's picked up by our commercial trash service once a week. It's often only half-full.
Lots of ways to be green without making anyone else's life miserable or lying to ourselves.
I'm late to the table here, but thinking a contrary view is needed:
I've lived in several communities where separation of recyclables from domestic rubbish was required by local or state law.
I've had people express to me that it was all dumped into the "same truck" -- in several cases they just hadn't observed that the truck contained multiple hoppers, in another case they had put out a clear bag full of waste-paper on a day when the appointed observance was glass and plastic -- I presume the haulers took it either because they thought it shouldn't be there if it was not garbage, or else they didn't want to deal with the "didn't pick up" callback.
My previous community and my current private waste hauler both put significant money in to automatic sorting systems, finding that these are actually much better than householders at correctly putting food waste in garbage and keeping sortable streams separate.
Post-consumer "recyclables" will always be commodity with variable pricing. Cardboard once it is sorted and baled is still $100/ton in income, but plastics you may have to pay someone to take. If you are paying $3.50/ton including haulage for someone to take your plastics, and $4/ton including haulage for landfill, that is still a good value proposition. If the price changes and you suddenly need to pay $4.25/ton to recycle the plastic, it may still make sense to keep the taxpayers accustomed to sorting and separating it, because the cost might fall back to where you are saving money over landfilling again.
I live in Portland. We tried using the bucket they gave us to compost kitchen scraps and gave it up because a) the scraps attracted flies in the summer, and b) the program itself was iffy. No one wanted big piles of stinky compost near where they lived, so it got trucked away.
I saw that episode of Penn & Teller's B******t! and I have to agree with their conclusions: the only material worth recycling is metal, be it steel, aluminum, copper, etc. All the rest is expensive to deal with, doesn't really pay for itself, and in too many cases ends up in the same place as the garbage, i.e. the landfill.
Checking the local tipping fees for trash versus recyclables, I've found the trash costs less than a third of what recyclables cost. Of course some of that might be due to the fact that we have a trash-to-energy plant that generates electricity and uses the trash as fuel, but still, if the tipping fees for recyclables is that much higher than trash, then something's wrong.
Fair enough. Saving even a few bucks is a good thing for a town, and I don't mind putting in a small amount of effort to help out. If this were sold as a such, conservatives and libertarians would generally sign on to those things that paid their way.
But at this point it would be hard to convince them of that. The idea of creating magic ponies from the recycling money has been tried and found wanting for so long that there is a large barrier of skepticism to overcome.
For myself, my town or state needs to show me the numbers, not repeat the cheerleading. If they can do that, I'm their biggest fan.