Monday, December 8, 2008

Roll On Recycling...

There is an article published in December 7th’s New York Times, Back at Junk Value, Recyclables Are Piling Up, written by Matt Richtel and Kate Galbraith who proclaim that “Trash has crashed”.

One reason the prices for recyclable materials has dropped is that demand from China, the biggest export market for recyclables from the United States, has slipped away as the global economy shall we say, slumped. According to the reporters, “China’s influence is so great that in recent years recyclables have been worth much less in areas of the United States that lack easy access to ports that can ship there.”

I come from a generation of environmentally conscious consumers who were raised to feel good about sorting their garbage and taking it to the roadside for recycling, and I’ve raised my son, Hunter, to do the same. But guess what; most recycling programs are driven as much by the almighty dollar as by activism. So while the market drops the piles of waste grows, leaving recycling companies with a major dilemma, do we store this waste and hope the market rebounds or do we send stuff to the landfills?

The impact on individual recycling efforts from town to town and state to state varies. Most communities are keeping their recycling programs, sometimes because they are required by law, sometimes because the economics, while they have drastically downturned, still favor recycling over landfills.

We cannot let the recycling effort deteriorate because of the economy, and the best place for most of us to start is home of course. We must resolve to change our personal strategies and produce as little waste as possible recycling everything we can, to not support products that cannot be recycled and, very importantly, to purchase recycled items whenever possible.

Here’s my plan. Right now I’m going to ignore bigger issues like scrap metal, and concentrate on what I can do around my own home. I know most people out there recycle somewhat; hell, this country has been trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle since the last Great Depression. We’d best harken back to our grandparents or great grandparents now, because soon we are going to have first hand experiences of what they had to live through.

Living in the country makes recycling kitchen scraps easy for me; they go to the pigs or to the compost pile (which usually means dinner for all our wild critters). Anything that doesn't go into compost that is leftover gets stored to use in a different meal. Tupperware is not for me. As often as possible I try to reuse plastic containers from products like cottage cheese, sour cream, take-out foods, for my leftover food storage. When they have fulfilled that purpose they go into the recycle bin.

Paper products are next. The amount of paper junk mail alone sent each year in the United States is astounding, according to a number of websites over 4 million tons, and most of that is never opened. Even if you recycle there are still enormous environmental costs in terms of ink, energy to produce deliver and recycle the paper, recycling inefficiencies and loss of productive forest to create the high quality glossy paper much junk mail uses. The industry tries to "greenwash" their images but you’re probably not fooled. Badly targeted junk mail helps no one, including the industries themselves, but still they keep pumping it out.

There is a lot you can do to reduce the cost to the environment, so many options in fact that I don’t have room to list them all here. If you click on this link it will take you to a website that has phone numbers, addresses and direct links that will allow you to cut back your junk mail significantly. Please take a few moments to view this site and follow some of their very easy steps.

If you really don’t have the time at least try this: Start by sending a postcard or letter to Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 15012-0643. Include your complete name, address, zip code and a request to "activate the preference service". For up to five years, this will stop mail from all member organizations that you have not specifically ordered products from.

I’m getting a worm farm. The unsightly worm has been quietly aerating, tilling, and fertilizing the soil for centuries, and utilizing their expertise will make it easier for me to get good soil for my plants since, as I mentioned before, most of my outdoor composting efforts are usually eaten up by "critters".

Worm farming is a simple way of turning vegetable and fruit scraps into a great potting soil for your garden or house plants. It can be done year round by apartment dwellers as well as home owners. Worm farming is particularly useful for people who would like to compost their food scraps but do not have space for a backyard compost bin. From all my research it seems that you should use red worms. They are also called red wrigglers or manure worms. Do not use earthworms or night crawlers. They just are not made to do this job.

All you need is a container of wood or plastic, bedding, and food. Worms function best at room temperature so keep your worm farm in a room where the temperature is between 40 degrees F and 85 degrees F., and they prefer it to be dark and without a lot of vibrations. Follow the directions for periodically cleaning out the castings, and never feed your worms meat, poultry, dairy products, or salty foods, like potato chips, and you won’t have an odor issue; minimal work for maximum output, sounds like a winning proposition to me.

Some things are easy to do: DO NOT use plastic bags to carry your groceries home. If you really feel the need to use a plastic bag for your meats or cold products or for purchases at big box stores, reuse them as garbage bags in the bathrooms, bedrooms, or home office, or use them to store and protect quilts, clothing, and appliances, whatever. Use paper bags to carry products home, they at least break down in a landfill, or use a cloth bag that will last for years and years. DO NOT use plastic bags for your recyclables. Please, please click the plastic bag links, it will become immediately apparent as to why plastic bags are disastrous.

Here is an idea, if you live in a state that has deposits on beverage bottles but you don’t like to take the time to return them at the stores, how about donating them to your local soup kitchen, or Boy Scout or Girl Scout Club, or at the very least sending them out to the curbside with your other recyclables. Reuse plastic or metal coffee cans in the garage, basement, or kid’s room for organization or storage purposes.

Finally, I live in Dutchess County, New York, so this is to help my fellow residents. If you live in other states or countries that have not begun any measures against these plastic bags please contact your local officials and voice your concerns. I personally think the plastic bag should be outlawed, but until that happens this is a step in the right direction.

During the 2008 Session, the New York State Legislature passed legislation requiring the reduction, reuse, and recycling of flimsy check out plastic bags.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney and Senator Carl Marcellino, the respective Chairs of the Environmental Conservation Committees in the State Assembly and Senate, the bill requires stores over 10,000 square feet and some stores over 5,000 square feet to offer in-store recycling of plastic bags for customers.

Additionally, the bill enacts public education policies to encourage reusable bags and recycling plastic bags. Currently the bill is awaiting Governor Paterson’s signature. Once law, this important policy will help make New York retailer and consumer behavior more sustainable while conserving finite resources and protecting wildlife. Read the full bill text here.

Please call Governor Paterson and tell him you support reducing plastic bag consumption. Please share your desire to shift from a wasteful nation to a sustainable society. When you phone tell the Governor
• Your name and address
• You support New York requiring in-store recycling of plastic bags statewide
• You want him to sign A. 11725/Sweeney and S. 8643-A/Marcellino
• You support shifting away from a disposable society

New York State Governor David Paterson can be reached by dialing:

So that’s it, some of my ideas of what to do to keep recycling rolling in the right direction. If you have any ideas or comments to share please feel free to post them.

Just remember to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.