“Man is a rational animal — so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it.” — Bertrand Russell
I hate being cynical. In contrast to such a sentimental state there is of course, love, charity, and — dare I suggest — recycling.
If you’ve paid any attention to the news lately, there has been quite a debate about recycling. Most everybody thinks it’s a good thing — at least as long as you can heave bottles, cans and paper into that convenient blue bin out on the driveway, and see what might have become trash whisked away to save landfill space, make new products and help support municipal budgets.
The problem is, the last 10 words of the above statement are largely untrue today.
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Did you know that declining crude oil prices — great for consumers — are contributing to the decline in recycling “profits”? It is now cheaper to make new plastic bottles than to recycle old ones because plastic is made from crude. I know, many of you wouldn’t use them in the first place, and good for you.
I buy one-gallon PVC water containers and refill them multiple times — they hardly ever go in the blue bin, and the small empty bottles we use for our vacation rental are donated to my grandkids so they can learn about recycling and earn a few pennies. OK, I know, I shouldn’t be using ANY for a variety of reasons.
But the problem isn’t just plastic bottles. Did you know that glass is rarely recycled anymore? Most of it goes on top of large blankets to hold down landfill waste. This presumably traps some methane gas from leaching out to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
And newsprint? The market has pretty much collapsed. (Blame China’s recession for that one.)
So, OK, where does recycling seem to work? In Seattle 71 percent of residential households are recycling, and the city has just implemented a composting program for food scraps as of Jan. 1. (And it started a shaming program: If you don’t put your banana peels and other vegetable wastes into the bin, it gets marked with a red sign).
Here in Cambria, as in many other places, it’s all too easy to do “pseudo-recycling” (my term, maybe original). The big blue bin becomes a repository for extra garbage, really, including foam, plastic bags, old clothes, books (I once found an entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica in my neighbor’s bin — I grabbed it.), and other items. Do people think there is a separate service to haul “good junk” to thrift stores or homeless shelters?
There isn’t. It just gums up the sorting lines at recycling facilities — already unprofitable in many places.
Humans have a way of justifying their bad (or negligent) behaviors in a variety of ways. I am quite cynical about that. Think about the other species on the planet — not a one of them ever needs a blue bin!
Bill Denneen of Nipomo is an old friend who is the Central Coast’s premiere “eco-activist.” I lived with him for three months once. He has the most efficient home recycling system I’ve ever seen, taking responsibility for nearly all his household waste before it even hits either the blue or gray bin. He buries all his paper (I helped dig the holes). He composts all food stuffs in his garden. He also routes all shower water to that same garden and has been doing that long before the drought. Come to think of it, he may not even have a Mission County account.
I’m no Dudley Do Right, but I try. Mostly I just don’t buy new stuff — and I do occasionally go to thrift stores. (That’s recycling, too). I even built a whole home in Baja, Mexico, out of mostly recycled materials — straw bales, recycled lumber, reused windows, ladrillo (fired bricks/tiles made with sand and dung), etc.
You can see pictures at amortgagealternative.com. (Of course, when I tried to do this in the U.S., officials threw ladrillo at me!)
I’m cynical, but hopeful we can all eventually do better at recycling — even if it costs a little more to do it (at least the way things are now).
William L. Seavey’s column appears quarterly and is special to The Cambrian.