Recycling - the real story starts to come out

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I had posted about this before but the majority of what you recycle gets tossed into the landfill. Aluminum is valuable and easy to recycle so it is the shining example but there is only so much of a market for paper, glass, garden waste, food waste, etc... and once that market is satisfied, the rest of it goes into the landfill. Reporter Christine MacDonald from the District of Columbia Washington City Paper is shocked SHOCKED to find this out:
Together Forever
Your recycling and your trash, sharing cramped quarters in the trucks of private D.C. haulers.

One Wednesday morning last winter, a big evergreen-colored garbage truck from Bowie�s, Inc. lumbers into the parking lot behind Politics & Prose bookstore. The sound of its engine breaks the quiet as its mechanical arms grab hold of the Dumpster and unload its trash into the back�a tumble of black plastic bags filled with coffee grinds, food scraps, greasy takeout containers, and castoff paper products.

After the truck releases the Dumpster, the garbagemen get their hands on something that doesn�t mix well with all that rotting garbage: the recycling. They roll up with bins holding newspaper, cardboard, bottles, and cans�all dutifully separated by employees at the bookstore and other businesses on this upper Connecticut Avenue strip. One by one, the men tip the contents of the recycling containers on top of the refuse�the bottles make a tinkling sound as the glass shatters against the truck bed.

Then: They go back to collecting trash. The driver hits a switch and it�s all smashed together before disappearing into the belly of the truck.

An exception? A rare case of wrongful commingling?

It doesn�t look that way if you spend some time following trucks of various private garbage companies around town. D.C. law requires recycling at all city buildings, though the law appears to stop at the threshold of all alleys. There, behind businesses and apartment complexes all across the city, this sloppy ritual goes down with striking regularity: In a blur of asses and elbows, workers throw stuff from green containers, black containers, and blue containers in the same truck, creating a jumble of trash and recycling that can never be de-mingled.
One sentence gives a possible reason for this travesty:
For starters, the market for recyclables has tanked.
But this doesn't stop the environmentalists from working up a good case of the vapours:
�The system is so broken,� says Jim B. Dougherty, a lawyer and member of the Sierra Club�s D.C. chapter, which has dragged the city into court multiple times over enforcement of the recycling law in the last two decades. He says the latest revelations are �outrageous� and calls for a formal investigation by the D.C. Council.
And reality sets in:
Looking around her neighborhood, she has concluded that most people aren�t recycling and says she�s not too concerned about a crackdown.
The numbers:
At one point, Doug Williams, vice president of World Recycling, Inc., says he couldn�t help but wonder whether haulers would bother to keep coming to his Cheverly, Md., center.

�That was the scary part because some haulers say, �Why come here when I can just take it to the dump?�� Williams says. He says he worried that they would �do the math and figure they are only going to make 30 or 40 bucks [on a day�s load] and say �to hell with it.��
One of the commentors summed it up nicely:
So basically the city passed an unenforceable recycling law so that local politicians could send out self-laudatory press releases about how forward thinking they were and no one ever bothered to check to see if the program was working or not.

The basic incompetence of our elected officials is no longer shocking.
There was a wonderful three-part episode of Penn and Teller's Bullshit television show that dealt with recycling and waste disposal in general. It was up on YouTube but has been removed for copyright reasons. Worth checking out -- Bullshit is available for rental at most places -- it's Season Two, show #5.

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This page contains a single entry by DaveH published on November 9, 2009 12:04 PM.

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