Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Green Choices Wednesday - Recycle and Reuse

Wednesday-- not only is this the day of the week for my Green Choices feature, it is also the day for weekly garbage pickup in my neighborhood.  When I go for my Wednesday morning runs, I'm usually a little disappointed by sights along the roads.  Many garbage cans are overflowing to the point that the lid won't close.  I don't make a point of looking inside people's garbage cans, but most of the overflowing ones have lots of recyclable items that are clearly visible while just running down the road.  Items like aluminum cans and plastic bottles that are so easy to recycle.  I once read that there are enough aluminum cans in circulation that if every one was recycled, no cans would have to be made from bauxite ore (a heavily polluting process).  Imagine that-- a closed loop system, a continuous cycle of use, recycling and reuse, instead of a linear system of manufacturing, use and landfill.  Seems like systems could be designed to do that with most materials we use, and that, with encouragement, everyone would to participate and make it work.  Maybe I'm naive.

One week per month, there is a pickup where residents can set out larger items.  The city does a good job in some areas.  I know they put yard waste like grass clippings and tree or bush trimmings in a separate part of the trucks and compost it.  They also pick up waste oil left in containers by the curb and send it for recycling.  Most other large items go to the landfill.  The city doesn't do a good job of recyling other items, as there is no curbside collection of cans, bottles, paper, etc.

I regret seeing useable items left by the curb for pickup, like pieces of furniture and miscellaneous household items.  There are good organizations in the area such as Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army.  They both accept household items that are usable.  They resell them in their stores, and everyone wins.  The organization gains resources to help run their programs.  Donators are able to get rid of unwanted items.  Shoppers in their stores get good, used items at a great price.  And the items get reused.

Every week, the magnitude of waste represented by the overflowing cans makes me sad.  And the magnitude of thoughtlessness involved in generating such waste.  After composting our kitchen and yard waste, collecting all metal, plastic, glass, paper and cardboard to take to local recycling centers, and just avoiding all possible disposable products, we often have just one small bag in the bottom of the huge garbage can that the city supplies.  And I'm not bragging, because it really just isn't that hard.

Think green and live green!  


Don said...

One thing that really ticks me off is that I have to pay the same amount for one bag of garbage a month that some of my neighbors pay for 25-30 bags a month. Maybe if they charged by the bag, people would care more about how much trash they generate.

Even when I lived in cities with curbside recycling, most people just didn't bother with if it's too much trouble to throw recyclables in a separate container. Now that I live in a rural area where the nearest recycling center is 25 miles away, I haven't met one other person who recycles anything.

A friend in Germany told me they have laws that require people to recycle. If they get caught throwing recyclables in the garbage, they face a hefty fine for doing it. Maybe that's what we need here.

I don't know how it is there, but around here if you put decent furniture or household items out, someone will come along and take them. There are a lot of people who drive around in trucks or vans on garbage day looking for things like that.

Are you familiar with the Freecycle Network? That's another way to get rid of unwanted household items, clothing, toys, etc.

Vern said...

Interesting that you mention garbage rates, Don. I've read about a number of cities that charge by the bag. I wish that all localities had a variable fee structure that encourages conservation rather than waste.

The city I previously resided in had curbside pickup, and my "unscientific" research (observation as I ran the neighborhood on pickup day) indicated that maybe half of the residents participated. I run early, so some additional people may have put their bins out after I passed by. The only good thing about 50% is that it's a lot better than the maybe 5% that will find places to take recyclables on their own.

There really needs to be better infrastructure nation-wide, with pick-up in all cities. Rural areas are especially in need of a better infrastructure.

And if the infrastructure existed, I'd support measures to make it mandatory.

As in your area, many useable items that are set out are picked up by folks driving by or looking for usable things. While bicycling last spring, my wife spotted a small wicker end table at the curb that she thought she'd like on our back porch. I picked it up and she cleaned it up, and it looks great!

Yes, I've heard about freecycle, and there is a group in our area, but I haven't checked them out yet. That's a great idea too!

Don said...

Do you know how much they charge per bag for garbage now? Years ago when I lived in Grand Rapids, MI, they only charged $1.00 a bag, and you either used your own bags and bought tags for them or bought bags provided by the city. Both the bags and tags were available at any grocery store.

I quit giving things to Goodwill and Salvation Army when I discovered they were throwing a lot of the donations in the garbage. They get so much donated that they can't handle it all, and rather than give things away, they send them off to the dump.

With Freecycle, you can at least assume that the people want the items since they usually have to drive to your house to pick them up. Of course, there's always the chance they'll resell the items in a yard sale or on eBay, but in either case, you'll know the items are being used by someone rather than being trashed.