Dec 20, 2007

On Recycling, Resistance to Change, and Apathy

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Left: Two weeks' worth of recycled items at Château Brooks

(Toledo, OH) I have long been an advocate of recycling efforts, which no doubt reflects the fact that I grew up after the environmental movement became influential in American politics and society. I dutifully recycle containers, cardboard, and paper, marking my calendar to keep track of the bi-weekly pass of the Toledo recycling truck. I mulch my grass clippings, recycle used batteries, and even mix in food scraps to my compost when I remember, or when our wily canines have failed in their panhandling efforts.

Since we began curbside recycling in Toledo, I have noticed that our weekly trash production is about half of its former levels. It is rare that we fill up all three of our 32-gallon containers, and many weeks see our large family setting only two cans at the street.

I say this not to applaud my own insignificant contribution to a reduction in the 251 million tons of solid waste dumped in municipal landfills each year, but rather to examine the reluctance of many Americans to recycle. In my neighborhood this morning, less than 25 percent of my neighbors bothered to put out recycling containers this week, and most of these houses provided ample evidence that they put forth no effort to recycle.

This is especially surprising in Toledo, where non-recyclers pay a higher rate for trash pickup. A non-recycling homeowner pays an extra $30 per year as compared with a resident who signs up for the city program, which provides an additional incentive beyond lofty ideals about reducing municipal solid waste (MSW), trash incineration, and groundwater and air pollution.

Left: Annual U.S. municipal solid waste production trends; click to enlarge

Toledoans, however, seem fairly typical in their anemic efforts to recycle. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the recycling rates of the major components of MSW demonstrate that there is a great deal of room for improvement:

Auto batteries: 99.0%
Steel Cans: 62.9%
Yard Trimmings: 62.0%
Paper and Paperboard: 51.6%
Aluminum Beer and Soft Drink Cans: 45.1%
Tires: 34.9%
Plastic Soft Drink Bottles: 30.9%
HDPE Milk and Water Bottles: 31.0%
Glass Containers: 25.3%
Yet some combination of apathy and resistance to change continues to plague American consumers, as the per capita generation of waste moved from 2.7 pounds per person per day in 1960 to 4.6 pounds per person per day in 2006.

But heck: what do I know? I mean, people are busy and stuff, and recycling takes, like, time and stuff, right? Who wants to rinse out milk cartons and place newspapers in bins when they could be popping a Justin Timberlake CD in their stereo cabinet, or watching exciting installments of "Deal or No Deal?" Why keep a bunch of old inkjet cartridges, cell phones, and AA batteries laying around when you can just toss them in the garbage and forget about them?

Sheesh.

27 comments:

Tim Higgins said...

Michael,

The dirty little secret of the recycling issue is that most of the paper recycled ends up in the landfill anyway. While recycling is the right thing to do with paper, the paper industry does not have the ability to reuse all of the paper recycled. Because of the coatings, the inks, or the pulp content of the paper involved, there simply are not enough paper machines capable of using this material to create new paper (or carton material.

Hence most of the paper sent for recycling heads for the landfill from the recycling facility.

Robin said...

We were dropping things off, at the recycling bins and Kroger, before the garbage fee started. I've noticed that there are only two other families, besides us that takes advantage of the curbside program, on my street.

Eric Vessels said...

It's all about developing a habit out of it. At first, it was hard to remember and seemed like a burden. Now I don't even realize it's happening. We keep 4 large bins and paper, fiberboard, aluminum, plastic, and glass go in them. They fill up about weekly. Our trash volume is incredibly low. There are weeks we don't even put trash out! Several this past year in fact.

Recycled materials don't have to be used to make the same end product. Many times paper can be used in fiberboard or other end uses. Wondering whether the recycled materials actually get reused or just dumped is a valid concern, but not a good excuse for not recycling.

kooz said...

History Mike,

I am disappointed to learn you are a contributor on mudrake blog. This guy goes around to blogs and bullies any blogger he feels has faith in Christianity.

He is ecspecially bullying a woman named Barb simply because of her Christian views. Now, he has gone to her blog and threatened to release her personal information...,in what I can only assume is his plan for people to go to her home or church to do who knows what.

My hope is that you are no longer contributing to this idiots blog. And, he better hope I never find out who he his because I will whip his ass from one side of toledo to the other.

historymike said...

Tim Higgins:

I have heard about the "dirty little secret," though I must admit I have spent little time researching the extent to which recycling facilities dump excess recyclables back into the waste stream.

Good point, though, about how recyclable supply and capacity are out of whack.

historymike said...

Robin:

You raise a good poinbt about the county bins at places like Kroger. I suspect that some of my neighbors make use of the bins, though I doubt that this is more than 10-15% of users.

I also make extra trips to the county bins when our recyclables start piling up.

historymike said...

Eric Vessels:

Good observations about the ease with which recycling can be incorporated into one's routine and the wide variety of post-consumer uses for many materials.

historymike said...

Kooz:

A couple of thoughts:

1. I contribute as Historymike to over a dozen blogs and websites on the left, right, and political center, and I also have other nom de plumes by which I contribute to even more websites. My contributions to any one site do not constitute a de facto editorial approval of any other content beyond my own.

2. That being said, I agree with the politics of Mud Rake more than I disagree with him.

3. The Mud Rake/Barb/Rob virtual feud predated my participation in the MWTMR blog, and would likely continue even if I left. I have no idea who started or accelerated the feud, and I have no interest in knowing.

4. My suspicion is that the feud has more to do with back-and-forth personal attacks and veiled threats than it does with religious views. Mud Rake is a self-professed Christian, as is Barb, though their faith has some marked differences.

5. Internet drama is a waste of time, IMHO, and sometimes leads to real-life conflict. I try to keep from getting myself involved in creating/maintaining/accelerating Web drama, and I urge others to do so as well. I got involved in a pissing contest with a certain neo-Nazi nutjob that turned into malicious libel and real-life BS, like anonymous calls to my employers claiming I was a pervert. I actually had to meet with campus police in one instance to answer these ridiculous charges, and offered up my laptop to prove I wasn't using it to download porn (as the anonymous tool claimed on the phone to college officials). I also had to retain a lawyer to force the removal of some outrageously libelous BS on a website.

6. Finally, life is too short to waste it feeding trolls. This image is a bit crude and insensitive, but it says a lot about the pointlessness of wasting time with Net feuds:
Internet Argument

:-}

jimbo! said...

WTF don't youse "re-cycle" Nikki Fck-Tard-Nutz?....thatz ONE GUTLESS BITCH!!...she likes "pontificating" as a commisar of political correctness, but when some-one like yrs truly "takes her to task" she starts deleting posts...like all youse "anti-s"...gutless yellow turdz!

historymike said...

Regular readers:

Please ignore the neo-Nazi troll.

Wondering said...

Mike, how do you recycle batteries?

historymike said...

Wondering:

Here's a list of Toledo locations to recycle items such as batteries and cell phones.

Here's the link for finding battery and cell phone recycling locations across the country.

microdot said...

Hey, I live in a land of mandatory recycling and I like it. It's really no problem. I have a compost bin which I was provided with my my Canton, sort of like your county. I use the compost on my garden and it works great.
I live in a very rural area and we have a few bins for the trash in our Hamlet. We get a supply of recycle bags from the Mayors office free and the recycle stuff goes in that bag..which goes in the recycle bin.
The household trash has it's own bin. If you lived in the village trash pick up area, you just put outthe bags on the pick up day and that's it.
Bigger stuff can be taken to the Canton Recycle dump, which has separate triage bins set up for different materials. TV's and appliances can be taken there. There is a tank for oil.
France has stopped building incinerators after they were proven to be a sopurce of airborn carcinogens. There are garbage dumps, but now the view is on long term waste management and all kinds of incentives are being given to promote that kind of behaviour.
People complained at first, but now, it's habit.
Most big stores do not automatically give plastic bags anymore. If you want a bag, you can buy a multi use heavy duty bag at the checkout, we are back to our old fashioned but very cool canvas or straw shopping totes.
There is a Commune near Strasbourg which provides trash cans with electronic puce...which record the weight at each pick up...the users are charged by weight at the end of the year. I actually went to a series of lectures given by the mayor of this village and he really was an inspirational, committed man!
It requires an initial investment in infra structure and education for the public, but you'd be surprised how fast it becomes normal.

microdot said...

One more thing, don't you have battery recycling in the States?
Every harware and appliance store here has a battery recycling station right at the door!

wondering said...

Thanks, Mike. Bookmarked the site for future reference.

Barb said...

History for History Mike --Before I ever knew about Liberal Democrat's blog (Mud-rake's) he was writing about me in a very insulting manner (Nov. 06) --not to disagree with points --but to tell of his disapproval of my past as a school board member --his skewed view of my "right wing agenda"-- his thorough dislike and disapproval --more than any substantive disagreement on points. Just a lot of ad hominem attack in his remarks.

SO, I started to comment on his blogs --and if you follow me at all, you will note that I really do like to discuss the issues, albeit from my Christian worldview. And you should note the kind of responses he gives me --always insults --not respectful disagreements which are more my style.

Rob doesn't bother with it anymore, considers it futile to deal with Mudrake and his particular like-minded readership. If his readers can't see that he's over the top in his vitriolic expressions and his fulfilled threats to reveal personal info when bloggers prefer a low profile --then why bother with him? Obviously I haven't maintained my own privacy of identity since I came on to defend myself when he was insulting me by my name published in the Blade. His own identity he guards closely.

Later he posted a picture of my home --and recently a photo of my church --and I'm often the topic of his block tirades --and the latest is, that because I questioned the wisdom of the governor's ruling to force utility companies to keep everyone's utilties on in the winter, whether or not they pay, he exploded and is threatening to post my address and phone number, he says, if I don't stop commenting on his blogs.

I don't understand why he doesn't just block me or delete me as he has done hundreds of times before. Well, I DO know why, come to think of it --he has hypocritically (to a humorous point considering he has done the same thing to me so often) chided Kooz for deleting and blocking him. Since he has stuck his neck out in favor of free speech on the blogs, I guess he tries to not censor --but just to COMMAND that I not post on his blog. He has also deleted me in the last couple of days, for disobeying him --like when I commented in my own defense.

I write there on his blog, because either I or people who believe as I do, are frequently attacked by him with no one to give another side. I think we are all better off to hear both ends of the ideological spectrums on any topics. I think his topics are interesting, too, and do provoke thought and comment. And my side of the issues is important in a free society with free speech and freedom of religion and religious expression. My thinking is typical of a large segment of the public; he ought to welcome hearing from them. He says I am particularly despiccable because of my view on homosexuality--but again, I represent a majority of the electorate in opposing gay marriage. Why not hear why? And then deal with those issues --instead of just blowing up?

Be that as it may, I don't personally care if you write on his blog or not. I've observed that your blog style is different, less vehement in disagreements. Like a good academic.

I do hope you are not "Engineer of Knowledge" --however --though I would answer him if Mudrake would allow it.

historymike said...

Barb:

Nope, not "Engineer of Knowledge." On the occasions I post a comment at MWTMR, I use "Historymike."

I have several other Web names, but they are for different purposes. I monitor some neo-Nazi and hate group activity, and have an unconnected Internet meme for that purpose. I also have a not-so-secret alter ego that dabbles in satire.

Beyond these purposes, I wouldn't even have the time to create a slew of fake names. I have trouble enough keeping up with the comments on my own sites!

mud_rake said...

Mike- When my wife and I visit Germany, there is no question about recycling: it is done, period. At the market, one must bring one's own cloth bag to take home the food. Bags are not provided.

When I take my items to the Kroger site, I notice that most recyclers are in the over-fifty age group. No empirical evidence, just an observation. Perhaps we older folks have the wisdom to know what a fragile environment we exist in.

Barb said...

Hey! I recycle!!! Common ground, Muckrake! So does my 87 year old mother.

mud_rake said...

Mike- it looks like Kooz left a turd here and then pulled the plug on his blog.

Barb said...

What happened to your blog, Kooz? It's such a good one. Enjoyed the annual Koozies --the awards!

Valbee said...

What I'd like to know is why the company picking up the recycling is seemingly picking and choosing when they pick up. A month ago, we set the clearly labeled can out to the curb. It was never emptied.

We missed recycling completely the next time around, thanks to my son falling asleep before hauling it out. Therefore, this week we had two labeled cans set out for pickup. They emptied one and left the other one untouched.

I could see it if there was something in one of the cans that wasn't allowed, but my recycling is pretty standard: glass, plastics and cans. I haven't started with paper yet, because I don't have room to store it inside and I know they won't take it if it's wet.

Has this ever happened to you or have you heard of it happening to others? I'm confused, and more than a little annoyed by it.

Barb said...

We don't have pick-up where I live. We have to deliver our recycling --so it accumulates in the kitchen until I can get my son to haul it to his car --I hope his car isn't full!

Hooda Thunkit said...

Mike,

Re: Recycling, I have much more recycling volume than I have trash because I have a garden and throw out very little organic waste.

The City picks up everything I put out for recycling, even the stuff in the unmarked containers probably because my recyclables always go on one side of the driveway and is definitely separated by the driveway from my lonely little bag of garbage.

Now,if the City recycled Kitty Litter, I could put my true garbage in a 5-gallon pail ;-)

I think that the separation of the pickup points is the secret to recycling in Toledo.

Barb said...

Mudly --did you threaten Kooz's job by any chance?

Robin said...

Thanks for the where to recycle batteries/cell phones links!

steve said...

There is time for recycling the products which will increase the economy rate than the previous years. So still so much development should be take place to increase the recycle of waste material.
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steve
mobile phone recycling