Monday, September 10, 2007


Is recycling worthwhile?

Since my community lacks reliable trash collection service, we take our trash to the local trash depository. In addition to the large compactor for non-recyclable general trash, there are also bins for various types of recyclable materials.

One huge bin is for mixed metal cans, glass bottles, and plastic containers, all mixed together. Does that make any sense? Is somebody going to sort through it, piece by piece? If they don't, what in the world could they use the mixture for?

Perhaps the job might be eased slightly, but not much, with an array of magnets. Then in one pile they'd have mixed stainless steel cans, tin-plate cans, zinc-plate cans, nickel-plate cans, and stray miscellaneous hardware in one pile, and mixed aluminum cans, clear glass, brown glass, green glass, milk glass, lead-crystal glass, and six formulations of plastic in the other pile. Nope! All the magnets in the world won't do much.

I'd almost be willing to bet that they simply weigh the mixed materials, apply for a federal grant of some sort based on percentage of total trash recycled, write a letter to send out to the public praising us for the great job of recycling we're doing, and send the mixed materials on to the landfill along with the non-recyclable trash.

Another huge bin is for mixed paper and cardboard of all types. Newspapers, magazines, books, catalogs, phone directories, cardboard boxes, all together. Actually, it's imaginable that there may be a few industrial uses for that mix without sorting, since all paper and cardboard products are more or less similar in chemical composition, so paper recycling might not be a total loss.

There's a large receptacle for used but still wearable old clothing for donation to charity. Now that would make sense, in principle, except that sorting items by size and style and getting them to needy people is very time-consuming. It probably is done by volunteers.

There is a large drum for used motor oil. Now that makes good sense, I think. I'm not sure what they refine used oil into, but at least it's possible to dispose of it without contaminating soil or water, even if actual recycling is not feasible.

There's a place in the landfill to dump bulky yard waste, but there's a dumping charge for that. Why? I don't know. It's compostable, whereas most other trash is not. In fact, I compost my own yard waste, and throw kitchen scraps in with it. Better than paying good money for garden fertilizer!

Used cooking oil can be cheaply converted into high-quality diesel fuel, and some estimates have been made that as much as one eighth of our nation's diesel fuel cosumption could be supplied by the used cooking oil from fast-fooderies. However, collecting the stuff would be prohibitively expensive. The typical American community has one or two fast-fooderies every three or four blocks, and each fast-foodery throws out only a gallon or two a few times a day. It would be a monumentally costly to have a collection truck loop around the circuit of fast-fooderies, collecting only a small trickle each stop. No wonder it isn't done except by a few diehard individuals out to prove something!

Now, back to metal, glass, and plastic. If none of it is ever recycled, we'll soon be mining our landfills. I really don't see how that would be bad at all. If all of it is recycled, we'll be mining our landfills almost as soon. For the most part, I think we ought to invest in landfill-mining technology instead of wasting time recycling.

Maybe recycling is just a feel-good thing, to make us feel patriotic.

How do you stand? Opinions, anybody?

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