Monday, September 15, 2008

More Thoughts on Recycling

A comment on my previous post inspired me to continue with the recycling theme. There's some history here, and a few questions. The first question is (or was): is the message getting through? Are people "getting" it? Are they understanding that recycling helps the environment, and can also help out with the "bottom line?" A good question, but here's an even better one: what are the communities and local governments doing to inspire people to reduce their own waste and embrace a more conservationist attitude?

Let's wind the clock back a few years. Okay, 15 years. Eek. I worked in Annapolis, in a cube for state government. So did a few friends. One of these friends used to stroll by my office almost daily, come in, peer into my trash, remove anything recyclable and take it with her to heaven knows where. To her credit, she didn't end our friendship over it. But nor did a few dirty looks and heavy sighs on her part convince me that I needed to put myself out long enough to go figure out what in the world she was doing with my empty Coke cans and then go do it myself.

Fast forward a few years. Mark and I bought a townhouse in Annapolis, and one of our first housewarming gifts courtesy of the Anne Arundel county government was a brand-spanking new blue recycling bin. We could set it out on the curb once a week loaded with a mishmash of bottles, jars, paper....we didn't even have to sort! How easy was that? And wow, it was free!! Well, as free as county taxes could be considered free, but let's not get off the topic. They also picked up our trash once a week, so who could complain? Then we moved to Allegany. Uh-oh.

Guess what? Allegany doesn't pick up trash. Nor do they give you shiny blue bins for recycling. Nope, you haul it yourself. Now some very enterprising folks bought some dump trucks and offer their services - curbside, that is, for a nice fee. We resisted for a few years, but finally gave in - after all, those disposable diapers (did I say that!) can get stinky in between trips to the local landfill, and don't smell too great in the back of a mini-van either. And recycling? Well, I must say, although they don't provide pick-up, the county seems to do a pretty good job of providing many places to recycle many things. Cans, bottles, plastics, newspapers, cardboard, motor oil, magazines, you name it. And unbelievably, half the time, the bins are so full you can hardly get your stuff in! Which begs the question: are there that many forward-thinking folks in this little mountain county? Or could there be...another reason?

Well, let's pick it apart a minute. Let's see, we have to contract our own trash pick-up. They come twice a week in this neighborhood. They'll take just about anything, but their unwritten rule is no more than 6-8 bags a week. Big stuff you still need to take to the landfill yourself. For the people that don't contract the pros, you pay 50 cents a bag (40 gallon maximum) to haul it yourself and heave it into these gigantic dumpsters at three or four dump sites around the county. You have to buy these bright orange tags at local vendors and stick them to each and every bag. With me so far? But guess what? Recycling is FREE. You can drop off plastic bottles, glass bottles, paper, all that, as much as you want, for free. So let's do the math. If a family of four generates 2-3 bags of recyclables a week in addition to regular trash, that's $1.50 a week at the landfill, well boy howdy, that's almost $80 a year saved by recycling alone. Effortless.

I'd say the Allegany County government has given families a bit of incentive to recycle, no? Let's see some other local governments start putting some surcharges on the amount of trash you're allowed to leave by the curb, and watch how many folks take a second look at the value of recycling.


Ohighway said...

Howard County needs to get the message of rewarding recycling. Currently if your blue recycling bin breaks, you can get a replacement AT A COST. My bin is just about falling apart, but still useable. For the paper I just use a couple cheap blue trashcans. Cheaper than the county's replacement bins, and have lids to keep the paper from getting soggy if it rains.

Something else I noticed, back to the people "don't get it" issue. Last week I dropped my 3rd boy at a neighbor's house before school due to a schedule conflict. It's recycling day and what do I spot?
No less than 7 of the splash guards that go at the base of your downspout...all piled in the recycling tub. What's wrong with that? Well 1) they're fiberglass, not plastic. Not recycleable. 2) Nothing wrong with them...why not just put a small ad in Craigslist offering them for free, let someone else get some use out of them.

I grabbed them. With the house remodel I needed them. Probably saved me at least a few bucks.

Rebecca said...

I think it comes down to laziness. And the idea that if they actually CHECKED the regulations regarding what they can and can't recycle, they wouldn't be able to get rid of their non-recyclable items. What's that old saying? Ignorance is bliss? Oh, HA, HA! Sorry, guess we'll read the rules NEXT TIME!!! Same way people mix glossy paper in with newsapaper and insist on throwing plastic bags in with their bottles and cans.

My feeling is: if you're going to bother doing it, please do it right. Otherwise, you run the risk of ruining it for everyone. In my mom and dad's neighborhood, they had this dumpster for newspapers. It was very convenient for them to drop off a bundle here and a bundle there - until people started throwing their trash in it too! Guess what? They took the dumpster away! It's really not that hard to comply with regulations, I wish more people would do it.