Last year I wrote a post called the Church of Recycling. My city is among those that have a curbside recycling program. We have lovely blue 90-gallon bins into which we can toss category 1 and 2 plastics, paper, cardboard, aluminum, cans, and small electronics/appliances (but not glass). Every other week, a truck from the contracted service comes around and picks up the junk in our recycling bins and we are left with the warm assurance that we are doing our part to save the environment.
Only it turns out, as noted in this article by James Thayler, that the whole thing (which costs a chunk of change in our monthly bill) is not based on rational fact. Thayler cites one expert as using facts to argue that the whole recycling campaign is an “irrational religion” in which “perfervid faith compensates for lack of factual support.”
Today’s Standard Examiner includes an article noting that most Top of Utah towns do not sponsor curbside recycling due to its poor cost to benefit ratio. The article quotes Clinton City Manager Dennis Cluff as being disgusted with a visit to the presumably temporary recycling storage facility employed by the city he formerly managed in Oregon. He said, “There was mountains and mountains of storage along the Columbia River” due to a lack of market for the materials.
Many Davis and Morgan County localities are achieving a measure of recycling by shipping their solid waste to the Wasatch Management District (a.k.a. Davis Burn Plant). Although the plant has had air pollution problems in the past, it performs much better since new equipment was installed. Trash is burned to create steam and electricity, which is sold to Hill Air Force Base.
Everybody wins, because the “best curbside recycling program in the country only keeps 15 to 20 percent of the trash out of a landfill,” while the “burn plant diverts about 50 percent of the waste from the landfill.” The ash byproduct represents only about 10% of the initial waste volume and is “is more stable than piles of garbage.” (I’m not sure how the math works on that one.)
The Standard Examiner article agrees with the Thayler article about glass recycling. There is no market for it. Why? Because the base materials for making glass are among the most plentiful and inexpensive elements on the face of the earth, and because it’s cheaper to make new glass than to melt down and reform old glass.
It is no secret that my city’s recycling program is not self supporting. But the fee is not split out separate from our regular garbage fee, so it is difficult to know exactly how much I pay for the service each month. I am trying to find out how effective our service is, how much of the material eventually goes to the landfill, and how much is sitting in ‘temporary’ storage somewhere.
It turns out that answers to these questions are difficult to come by, either because officials don’t know the answers or don’t care. It seems that these officials are a lot like me and my neighbors. (Heck, they are my neighbors.) Once the bins are emptied and the trucks leave the city limits, we’re like the proverbial three monkeys that see, hear, and speak no evil.
I am not optimistic that anything will change even if the answers to these questions turn out to be less than supportive of our city’s system. The good citizens of my city have largely bought into the goodness of the program. The dogma has already won out. The facts will matter little because we are addicted to those environmentally friendly warm fuzzies that warm our hearts when we wheel our blue bins out to the curb.