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.
I am putting them in the bin provided by Waste Management and the township I live in. They just want everything in the bins to be loose and scrubbed before they have to touch it with gloves to throw it in the truck. It's a dainty little business, I guess.
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).In my municipality I pay $10 a month to have the trash picked up, so I'll be clintoned if I am going to pre-process the modell for them.
I also happen to know how they treated the at-one-time second largest aluminum recycling site in North America (my previous employer) when it was located there. Another reason not to cooperate.
Where paper is concerned, most paper comes from trees which are grown as a crop. Therefore, "saving trees" by using it sparingly or recycling it is like "saving corn plants" by not eating corn....or recycling it from.....never mind.
New York City wasnt able to dump its garbage at sea any more, and it got piled up on Staten Island. What happened?It would have, except for the fact that a big proportion of the waste produced in NYC is converted into laws, regulations, or politicians.
Staten Island doubled in size???
But glass was sterilized and reused umpteen times. Then somebody got the bright idea to dump the costs on the public and use "disposeable" plastic bottles, which takes years, if ever, to deteriorate. Note that the shift to plastic didn't equal a drop in price.
Same with paper bags - they rotted after a while. They gave jobs to people who logged the scrub pine and the forest was renewable. Now we suck up oil to make these bags, which like the above, never decay. (I still make a point to ask for paper in the stores, especially now that they have handles, which was the only "improvement" I found in plastic.)
The article sounds like a promo for the "use once and throw it away" crowd. That being said, I never could see the sort-your-garbage routine as it was pretty obvious that it was neither environmentally friendly or cost effective and was merely another duck-the-consequences gambit by the corporations.
Bingo! Remember: When something worth something people pay you, you don't pay them, i.e. you don't pay someone to take your 2002 Dodge Ram 2500, they pay you, but you do pay someone to haul away your old washing machine that just went kaput.
They are just figuring this out??
The Recycling guys have been doing this around my way for years ... and we pay extra trash fees for this too
I have to admit the funniest .. well actually the stupidest recycling story I've heard, was a few years ago when a street near me was repaved using recycled glass
Everyone kept getting flat tires .. so then the local township had to do a study to find out why so many flat tires were occurring on the street made from recycled glass
YEP .. it's all about the money
Many Many years ago .. my county built a trash to steam plant ... over the years it continues to still lose money and we the taxpayers are stuck paying MILLIONS for the stupid thing
I'd be interested to know what the net effect is. I know I've read it but I can't remember the answer. It might also be pointed out that location of the pollution and how it is released are conciderations.
The trash company says I don't have to wash out the individual items, but that I should keep the bin itself clean. Brilliant. So, which takes more water: rinsing out individual cans and bottles, or scrubbing out a large trash bin with ripened goo and encrusted gook?
Actually, tonight we're just saying to hell with it and will burn the Christmas paper, boxes, etc. in the patio fire pit. It won't all fit into the trash bins, and the trash company now won't take anything that will not fit into the provided bins. I'm not leaving the trash stacked around MY house!