Skip to comments.Why the Trash You Sort Isn't Getting Recycled
Posted on 12/29/2003 10:07:20 AM PST by stylin_geek
My neighbors are unhappy to learn that the trash theyve carefully sorted for years into brown bottles, green bottles, cans, and paper is being dumped back into one pile at the local landfill. Except for aluminum cans, no one wants the sorted trash items. Is this bad for the environment?
Probably not. I checked with Dr. Daniel Benjamin of Clemson University (and the PERC Center for Free Market Environmentalism) and he says: First, dont worry that the trash going into our landfills will take over too much of the land area. People today are actually throwing away less trash (in both volume and tonnage) than in previous, less-affluent generations. Dr. Benjamin says the average U.S. household today generates one-third less trash than the average family in Mexico!
How can this be?
In significant part, its because we throw away less food, thanks to commercial processing and packaging.
When chickens, for example, are commercially processed, the beaks, claws, and innards are turned into pet food instead of going into the kitchen garbage can. Commercial processing and packaging of 1,000 chickens adds about 17 pounds of paper and plastic wrapbut turns (recycles) about 2,000 pounds of chicken by-products into useful purposes. Ditto for such things as the peelings from frozen French fries and the rinds from making orange juice. (The factory potato and citrus peels go to feed livestock.)
Millions of additional tons of organic waste go down the garbage disposals and so on to waste treatment plants, instead of drawing flies at the landfill.
Companies have also turned to lighter-weight packages (mainly to cut transport costs) and the total weight of the packages entering landfills, says Dr. Benjamin, has fallen by 40 percent. Plastic two-liter soft drink bottles weigh 30 percent less than the old glass bottles. Plastic bags weight 70 percent less than paper. Even aluminum beverage cans now weigh 40 percent less.
Thirty years ago we were told that we were running out of landfill space. New York City wasnt able to dump its garbage at sea any more, and it got piled up on Staten Island. What happened?
A new rule on ocean dumping and a temporary shortage of landfills with permits basically caused a bottleneck. New York initially started exporting its trash by rail. (Some if it came to Virginia, where we had lots of rural gullies to fill, and were very cheerful about the dumping fees.)
Today, the United States has 25 percent more landfill space permitted than we had 25 years ago. And all the trash were expected to dump in the next 100 years would fit into a landfill about 10 miles square.
There are no plans for one centralized national dump, of course, because its more advantageous for most communities to save the transportation costs, and turn their completed landfills into parks and tennis courts within their own borders.
What about pollution leaking from the landfills? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), never likely to minimize a pollution risk, says leakage from modern Americas landfills can be expected to cause one cancer-related death over the next 50 years. In other words, the danger is too low to be measured. Todays landfills are sited away from groundwater sources; built on a foundation of several feet of dense clay; the foundation is covered with thick plastic liners, and the liners are then covered with several feet of sand or gravel. Any leachate is drained out via collection pipes and sent to the municipal wastewater treatment plants.
Wont we be losing irreplaceable resources if we landfill instead of recycling? Too often, recycling proponents focused on the aluminum or newspaper being recycled, and forgot about the fuel, manpower and other resources it took to turn the trash into something useful. And with new technology, resources such as copper and wood have declined in value.
Franklin Associates, which consults for EPA, says extensive recycling is 35 percent more expensive than conventional disposal, and curbside recycling is 55 percent more expensive. In other words, recycling takes more resources than landfilling.
Why did people promote recycling so heavily in the first place? Lots of people probably misunderstood the costs and benefits. Its also true that eco-activists urgently wanted everybody to feel a direct stake in saving the planet. Telling us all to recycle was their way to make us feel eco-involved.
Today, however, when environmental concern is near-universal and conservation techniques are far better, we dont need phony recycling campaigns.
Let me know if you wish to be added or removed from this list.
I don't get offended if you want to be removed.
I received a stern warning from Waste Management recently that I was breaking the law by placing my recyclable trash in plastic bags (which are recyclable). Seems I could be subjected to a $300 fine if I don't knock it off.
They were kind enough to mail a pamphlet describing exactly what I should be doing with my soup cans and soda bottles (as if I have the time or inclination to scrape the damn wrappers off the soup cans, wash out the soda bottles, remove the plastic wrapper, lid and ring from the bottle...and on and on and on).
One day while taking an air-break near the loading dock (While some people take smoke break, I take air breaks to help stay awake at work), the recycling truck pulls up and started to load the discarded and sorted office paper.
I asked him what they do with it, and he replied that he takes it to the same place the other trucks do - the landfill, where it is mixed with 'normal' trash with large spike-wheeled front end loaders.
Curious, I asked, then why does your company provide recycling services if you are not recycling stuff? His answer: "We make more money on 'recycling' service that regular trash service."
Proudly refusing to recycle since 1966.
Recyling is a monumental waste of energy - reducing total garbage volume is the key to success.
Why toss away trash when much of it can be recycled profitably on eBay?
All the proponents have gone. Turned out they assumed somebody else would do the work and the proponents could take a well-deserved vacation in Costa Rica for the rest of their lives.
I can picture Homer Simpson drooling already.
Staten Island doubled in size???