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Why the Trash You Sort Isn't Getting Recycled
http://www.americanoutlook.org ^ | December 29, 2003 | Dennis T. Avery

Posted on 12/29/2003 10:07:20 AM PST by stylin_geek

My neighbors are unhappy to learn that the trash they’ve 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, don’t 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, it’s 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 wrap—but 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 wasn’t 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 we’re 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 it’s 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 America’s 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. Today’s 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.

Won’t 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. It’s 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 don’t need “phony” recycling campaigns.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: environment; environmental; environmentalism; recycle; recycled; recycling
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To: visagoth
I had a very similar experience while working as a contractor at Microsoft.
Most of the Birkenstockers there dutifully sort their trash, including in the cafeterias. It was hilarious to see these folks scrape and sort, and pontificate over any who shirked their civic duty, only to see the garbageman dump it all into the same hold of their trucks.
41 posted on 12/29/2003 10:44:17 AM PST by rockrr ("Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me")
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To: Grampa Dave
In this town they must have thousands of special home based bins, three dozen of dozen specialized collection trucks and more than a hundred union protected jobs all dedicated to the retrieval of aluminum, glass, steel, paper and plastic. The apparent waste is simply amazing. If nothing but aluminum is kept, all the public has to do is place his waste in to clear plastic bags and scavengers will pick it up with pleasure.

Hell, some people get out before the break of dawn on collection days just to riffle through the recycle bins for aluminum cans.

42 posted on 12/29/2003 10:47:15 AM PST by oyez (Incredible!)
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To: rockrr
Some trash just does not lend itself to the recycling process!


43 posted on 12/29/2003 10:53:06 AM PST by Bluntpoint
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To: oyez
Our county and city had to pass laws making it illegal for people to drive buy and pick up the recycs with deposits.

We take the bottle and cans with deposits to our church for the Heifer program. A member takes the cans to a recycle center, collects the money and turns it over to our assistant priest. Then money is deposited in a Heifer account. When enough money is raised we buy cattle, sheep, goats and even llamas for people in third world countries.

There still is a market for the grass and tree clippings. There is a separate garbage truck for them. The rest of the recycles are thrown in the same truck. They extract the botttles and cans and compact the rest and send it to Utah, I believe.

Apparently there is no market for used newsprint, office paper and cardboard. People spend a lot of money, time and effort to separate these items. Then it ends up compacted together and sent to another state to become deposited with the other garbage.

This whole game has made millionaires out of the gargage people, the watermelons and the lawyers.
44 posted on 12/29/2003 10:54:44 AM PST by Grampa Dave (Kaddaffi, "I will do whatever the Americans want because I saw what happened in Iraq. ")
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To: rockrr
"I had a very similar experience while working as a contractor at Microsoft.
Most of the Birkenstockers there dutifully sort their trash, including in the cafeterias. It was hilarious to see these folks scrape and sort, and pontificate over any who shirked their civic duty, only to see the garbageman dump it all into the same hold of their trucks."

My wife is an office nurse for a family practice group in a good size medical building. The local Nazis have fined the group in the past for not separating their garbage.

So now one of the Doctors, a watermelon, has become the Complex's Garbage Nazi. His office has a corner view of the garbage storgage area with all of the marked and defined bins. He watches all day and then makes periodical visits to physically inspect the individual dumpers which are different colors and marked for specific garbage.

It doesn't matter. All of the garbage goes into one or two trucks, it is compacted together and the drivers drive to their next stops to put more garbage in the same trucks.

45 posted on 12/29/2003 11:01:45 AM PST by Grampa Dave (Kaddaffi, "I will do whatever the Americans want because I saw what happened in Iraq. ")
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To: Grampa Dave
I compost what I can, not for the environment but for my lasagna (no-till) garden beds. Rather than doing the back-breaking work of removing sod and tilling earth, I just lay about 10 sheets of dampened newspaper right on top of the grass, and layer used coffee grounds (obtained in bulk from Starbucks -- they will give used coffee grounds to anyone who asks), shredded leaves, grass clippings, horse manure, and produce scraps. I always top the bed with shredded leaves for attractiveness sake.

You can either plant in it right away or wait a few months and let it decompose. You end up with incredibly rich garden soil for very little work.
46 posted on 12/29/2003 11:06:43 AM PST by alnick
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To: Grampa Dave
I can just imagine how the Dr. who performs this duty is described when being discussed by people in the office.
47 posted on 12/29/2003 11:09:29 AM PST by stylin_geek (Koffi: 0, G.W. Bush: (I lost count)
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To: stylin_geek
He is called the Garbage Nazi even by those on his staff, and The Garbage Nazi and a few more colorful adjectives and adverbs by those who don't work for him.

One very independent Doctor came in on his day off and shot video of all the garbage going into the same truck or two trucks with no sorting. When the Garbage Nazi threatened to fine him and his staff, the good doctor sent him a copy of the reality video with a note "My lawyer wants to tangle with your lawyer! Make his day and try to fine me!"
48 posted on 12/29/2003 11:15:17 AM PST by Grampa Dave (Kaddaffi, "I will do whatever the Americans want because I saw what happened in Iraq. ")
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To: stylin_geek
Heck, I thought recycling was my patriotic duty. Sometimes, if I didn't have sufficient paper to fill up my blue bin, I'd go to the store and buy extra stuff so I could recycle the packaging.

I didn't want to be accused of not recycling enough.

49 posted on 12/29/2003 11:16:37 AM PST by AZLiberty (Be the Butterfly.)
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To: Glenn
I have fought recycling for 20 years--my neighbors, my wife, anyone who wanders into my firing zone. First of all, every three months or so, a news story breaks about how some trash hauler responsible for picking up and delivering recylcables...is just dumping them into the regular landfill. In other words, he gets a premium to treat special garbage just like regular garbage--till he's caught. Meantime, everyone who recycles gets to feel all special because they're saving the planet. Gimme a break: crushing my Pepsi cans saves the planet? People are simpletons, aren't they? This is the biggest greenie victory of our era, and it's a total lie.

The second argument is: If you want to be enviro-friendly, bury all of it. Because it takes more time, energy and resources to recycle a container than it does just bury the damn thing.
50 posted on 12/29/2003 11:22:41 AM PST by John Robertson
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To: stylin_geek
Nice to know - I think I'll run over and tell many of my pious "We recycle so we are better than you, cuz we care" neighbors about this...
51 posted on 12/29/2003 11:25:41 AM PST by Chad Fairbanks (What am I rebelling against? Well, what do ya got?)
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To: AZLiberty
Wow, nothing like stimulating the economy on both ends.
52 posted on 12/29/2003 11:35:46 AM PST by stylin_geek (Koffi: 0, G.W. Bush: (I lost count)
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To: Glenn
Whattttttttt???????? scrub your garbage (trash) before you throw it away??? hell, if i wash it, i'm gonna keep it...i don't want to keep it that is why i threw it away..it is called garbage cause it is dirty.
53 posted on 12/29/2003 11:36:09 AM PST by cajun-jack
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To: visagoth
A couple of years ago, a business that I was acquainted with started the big office paper recycling program ....

I once worked for a company that had a huge recycle bin, upon which there was a large sign that read "WHITE TRASH ONLY."

54 posted on 12/29/2003 11:38:57 AM PST by Agnes Heep
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To: alnick
In my wife's and my younger days, we did what you do. It turned a rock pile into a great back yard with a minimum of 6 inches to 19 inches of good top soil.

Apparently there is still a market for the grass triming and garden green waste. As a separate truck picks up that container.
55 posted on 12/29/2003 11:40:37 AM PST by Grampa Dave (Kaddaffi, "I will do whatever the Americans want because I saw what happened in Iraq. ")
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To: stylin_geek
Still not sorting trash since 1952.


About 10 years ago, when our local program was still fresh in everyone's mind, a neighbors child 'caught' me dumping empty beer cans into the regular trash.

The mind-numbed victim of public school indoctrination looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "Mr. Teddy, if you don't recycle, the rain forests will burn down!".

I told him not to worry, if the rain forest caught on fire, I'd drink more beer and pee on it. That seemed to satisfy him or at least frighteded him enough to go away. (and yes, his Dad and I had a good laugh about it.)
56 posted on 12/29/2003 11:41:53 AM PST by TC Rider (The United States Constitution 1791. All Rights Reserved.)
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To: Agnes Heep
Some of the best humor in life are these little slices of reality like this one you posted:

"WHITE TRASH ONLY."

57 posted on 12/29/2003 11:42:00 AM PST by Grampa Dave (Kaddaffi, "I will do whatever the Americans want because I saw what happened in Iraq. ")
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To: Grampa Dave
Apparently there is still a market for the grass triming and garden green waste. As a separate truck picks up that container.

A lot of communities do that and compost the stuff and then provide it back to the people in the community, either for a small fee or free. My town doesn't do anything like that, so I have to scrounge for my organic matter for the garden.

58 posted on 12/29/2003 11:43:24 AM PST by alnick
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To: Grampa Dave
One very independent Doctor

Probably Howard Dean.

59 posted on 12/29/2003 11:46:12 AM PST by oyez (Incredible!)
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To: Oatka
I doubt that this article is well-documented even though I agree with him to an extent. There is no way that a liter plasitc bottle is only 30% lighter than a liter glass bottle. I also doubt the stats concerning land fill areas. When even little ole Columbus, Georgia has a vast ex-fill area covered by a new public golf course one must consider that more and more space is indeed required. New dumps are always controversial due to neighbors not wanting trucks passing with garbage blowing out.
60 posted on 12/29/2003 11:48:03 AM PST by Monterrosa-24 (A liter of litter)
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