Saturday, November 3, 2007

Is Recycling That Hard? (Part Two)

In an effort to broaden the discussion a bit on this subject (and at the insistence of one of our readers – thanks, Ginger!), I submitted a slightly edited version of the original post to the Sakonnet Times as a letter to the editor. It didn't show up in the print version because of everything going on in Portsmouth, but it did land online. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how many people in town are checking that out.

In any case, we've had some good discussion so far. In his comment, “michiganmiked” brought up the need to make it mandatory through town ordinances and then impose penalties for those who can't seem to get it right. He referenced a model policy in Derry, NH.

Well, if my memory serves, recycling is "mandatory" in Tiverton according to Chapter 66/Article III of our town ordinances. Chapter 66 (Solid Waste Management) was revised and passed sometime in 2005 (again, if memory serves) while I was on the town recycling committee. I checked the town website for a copy of the current ordinance but couldn't find anything. Best you can do is link to our Code of Ordinances as of 2003. (Comment: How can citizens know the ins and outs of town living if officials can't even update online information that could no longer be accurate. What's the obstacle, here? That info is almost five years old.)

The problem is that of enforcement. Whose job is that? The police? The waste hauling company? The town? First, we need some top-down commitment that recycling and reducing our collective volume of trash is a priority. Then we need to find and empower the resources to enforce it. I agree, if you start not picking up someone’s trash or hitting them in the wallet with fines, they are sure going to stand up and notice.

"michiganmiked" – Do you know how Derry is enforcing their code?

"Shelli" commented on efforts to recycle at a local school in Westport. In terms of Tiverton -- if recycling is “mandatory” -- no one is spot-checking that effort and enforcing compliance. Again, the town needs to step up and lead by example.

It's shortsightedness in thinking and planning that's going to get us in a bind. While our landfill still has capacity, one day it's going to be capped. When that happens, WE (the town) will pay to have our trash hauled to the Central Landfill in Johnston. There, WE will pay a per-ton tipping fee for trash (and penalties for not separating recyclables if that's the case). If the terms are still the same as a few years ago, there is NO tipping fee for recyclables. That's an easy math problem to solve: The more you recycle, the less trash you have. The less trash you have, the less your tipping fees are. The less your tipping fees are, the more money you save in the town budget.

Let me try to get Steve Rys of the Recycling Committee to add to the discussion.

Bottom line: We have to do better. If not for the planet, then for some small contribution to tax relief. Choose your personal priority.

2 comments:

Matt W. said...

Reduce - Reuse - Recycle

Arguably the credo for any environmentally friendly person. Most of us can recite this as easily as reciting the alphabet. Unfortunately, this credo only tells what to do, not how to do it.

Reduce: Seems easy enough, but manufacturers of mass produced goods make this particularly difficult. This is especially true of packaged goods where there is exceedingly too much packaging for the product contained. It's exacerbated by products that are designed to be disposable, rather than reusable or refillable.

What is one to do with the un-recyclable packaging? What about the disposables? How do we recycle those?

The notion of reduction is a problem compounded by the fact that America is awash in the desire for consumption. Nothing is built to last any more. Nor are things built to be repaired. If it breaks, throw it away and get a new one.

Reuse: Unless one has the personality trait of a packrat, most of us don't really want to keep "stuff" around in our homes just so that we can *possibly* use it 5 or 10 years down the road. Physical baggage becomes mental baggage, so we toss out the stuff we don't need. Most of which is not recyclable.

Recycle: Arguably, a lot easier than 10 years ago. Many municipalities issue free blue bins to stick recyclables in and don't even require pre-sorting of said recyclables. This makes things radically easier for those of us who barely have enough time for our spouses, kids, family, friends, etc.

Still many people find it easier to just toss it all in one bin: the garbage can.

Possible solutions?

Reduce:

- It's not really possible to change consumer buying habits, but it is possible to lobby government and write to companies manufacturing these goods to ask them to reduce their packaging.

Reuse:

- No easy answers here. In fact, Reuse is pretty much the least effective of the 3 aspects of the credo because "reuse" is only delaying the inevitable: recycling (if possible) or throwing out.

If the item(s) in question are still useful either have a garage sale, give to Good Will / Salvation Army, or advertise said item(s) on eBay/Craigslist/Freecycle.

Items that are no longer useful lead to...

Recycling

- Unfortunately, most of what gets recycled in our society is the daily consumables: plastic bottles, cans, newspapers, cardboard boxes, glass jars, etc.

While trivially easy for most of us, even doing this takes time that some people just don't have. The garbage can is just so seductively easy.

The ultimate environmental invention would be a trash facility that would take plastic bags full of garbage/recyclables and automatically sort everything (via robotic arms?) into their respective categories. Everything recyclable would be recycled. Everything else would get tossed and/or burned (if safe enough.)

A pipe dream perhaps, but it wouldn't require the massive level of altering human behavior and instead unburden the human race of this menial task (in the ever burdensome information age...)

Until then, education is the best bet. As an example, I know people in the Boston who are still sorting their recycling despite the fact that most municipalities in the area now accept bins full of unsorted recyclables.

Household hazardous waste days need to be increased from once a month to 2 to 4 times per month at the very least. And people need to be made aware of these days and what is accepted so that hazardous waste can be recycled properly.

It's a tough battle, but I think we'll get there some day. :-)

Anonymous said...

Contacting the officials is nearly impossible by email. If mail is sent to the addresses on the Town website, they are "not able to be accessed, try this one:"

And they're also missing or out of date or missing a letter on the Secretary of State's website for the Town.