22 March 2010

County Threatens to Cut Recycling

Chestertown Spy: County Cuts Curbside Recycling

Dear readers,

When you read the above news item, please also read the commentary. I would like to attempt to dispel some of the preconceived notions regarding recycling that the general public seems to hold. I feel that as the Recycling Coordinator for a 2000 person community I can speak with some accuracy in regards to the larger issue of the surrounding Kent County community.

First of all, recycling is an expensive proposition. As Ford Schuman states in the commentary (and he is one of the few other people who can speak accurately about recycling, being the head of a recycling company himself), “It has always been a misconception that recycling pays for itself. Recycling easily costs less than landfilling. Even if you have to pay $20/ton to ship a load to a manufacturer that accepts it free, you’re well below the trash tipping fee of $55/ton, not counting shipping. Plus you don’t have to safeguard the recycling for perpetuity and more jobs are created.”

Recycling does not pay for itself. Recycling will never pay for itself so long as raw materials are cheap and largely subsidized. Consider the plastic bottle. Plastic bottles are made of PETROLEUM, ie OIL, and we all know oil is in short supply. However, it is so heavily subsidized by the federal government that the price is unnaturally low. This allows beverage companies to use it copiously to produce plastic bottles for your consumption. You are not paying the price to them. They are not paying the price of extracting the oil, particularly from conflict areas. The federal government (and our soldiers abroad) are paying for this with YOUR tax dollars.

After you’ve used a plastic bottle, if it gets recycled, it is then somehow the county government’s responsibility to figure out what to do with it. They need to put out the money to collect it, and, because people are insufferably lazy, in Kent County they have chosen to do this via curbside collection to make it as easy as possible. We have gone a step farther at Washington College, because our community was too lazy even to be bothered with curbside. Instead, we installed 230 fairly expensive bins directly in hallways on campus and employ 10 students to empty them on a weekly basis, and still, STILL, we are not capturing all of the recycling that goes through this campus. An enormous amount of it goes into the trash, because apparently it is too “inconvenient” to walk ten feet down the hall to the recycling bin.

The fact that the county has been successful with curbside is a stellar recommendation for their efforts and commitment. But let’s talk costs for a minute. Here on campus, we have spent thousands of dollars on installing recycling bins (one sturdy bin that is able to hold up to the beatings students regularly give them is approximately $120- just as an aside, this is comparably cheap when placed next to your average public trash can). We annually (or rather, the federal work study program) pay about $25,000 for student work. And then there’s me, the only “full” time staff person dedicated to recycling, and considering I am technically only paid half of my salary to do recycling, but spend more like 80% of my time on it, the college is getting a pretty good deal. It’s expensive. And, to top it off, we aren’t paying for containers, or hauling. The county is (thanks, guys).

The point is, we as a society expect to pay to have our trash removed. We somehow expect recycling, because it is associated with the environmental movement, to pay for itself. Newsflash: it doesn’t. It never will, unless oil subsidies vanish and the real cost of raw materials reveals itself (I’m hoping for that option, personally). Recycling is not, and never will be, saving the environment. It is diverting a few types of waste away from landfills and converting them (through an extremely energy intensive and expensive process) into other materials. If we were really concerned about the environment, we wouldn’t be producing the recyclables in the first place, we’d be concentrating on zero waste and reusables. We’d be holding companies responsible for the products they are creating, so that the cost of dealing with a beverage container was put back on the creator (and the purchaser), NOT the tax-paying public and the municipalities.

But that, of course, would be inconvenient.

In closing, if the county is truly shutting down the recycling program because they are disappointed it’s not more of a money generator, I would really like to see the figures on how much they put out annually for trash removal and tipping fees. If these costs are covered by the towns (as I believe they are), then I move that it should be the responsibility of the towns to pay for recycling as they also pay for trash removal. And if people are not willing to pay more to live in town and have someone come to their doorstep to pick up their waste, they need not to create so much waste in the first place.

I invite anyone who complains about the expense of recycling to spend a day collecting and transporting recyclables from the public. After seeing the inordinate amount of materials people waste in the space of a single week, please feel free to come back to me and complain again about the expenses. All we, the recycling collectors of the world, are trying to do is manage YOUR waste in the most efficient way possible.

Believe me, it’s not a job that receives a lot of thanks.

No comments: