Previous posts (Sept. 3, 2009 and Oct. 2, 2011) discussed early recycling research at the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Laboratory. I had a special assignment to do technical editing for project personnel, and also to handle public information tasks. Recycling was a hot topic in the early 1970s. Handling media inquiries and responding to requests for presentations at schools and civic organizations kept me hopping.
To do my work well, I had to have a good understanding of the goals of the research and what was involved. To provide that understanding, Project Leader Wayne Carr spent many hours with me explaining his philosophy and why and how the Forest Products Lab group was working in the area they had chosen. Carr was a chemical engineer with experience in
the pulp and paper
industry. He also was a dedicated environmentalist. He taught me a lot.
|Good words to live by|
Carr’s basic thesis was that despite all the good intentions of many people, recycling systems requiring much work by household members would never solve landfill problems. Carr firmly believed that although some Americans could be motivated to clean and separate their household trash for recycling, at least as many would not participate even in the best-designed and publicized programs.
Carr saw the need for a new automated industry where homeowners could continue to toss all their garbage and trash into single containers for collection. The waste then would be transported to processing centers for separation and shipment to various manufacturing facilities to be remade into products.
We’re not there yet, but many American cities and towns are well on the way. In
a city with serious landfill shortages, the mayor recently announced a goal of
100 percent recycling, with composting the garbage part of household waste as
the final step.
Was Carr right about individuals making an effort to recycle? He was if recent history where we live is a good indicator.
Our home is in a rural township. When we moved here five years ago the recycling system in place was cumbersome. We had to separate trash into cardboard (only small, flat pieces), paper, food cans, and very few plastic items, and then carry it in individual tubs to the curb for monthly pick-up. The majority of township residents ignored the program, and just continued to toss everything into one container for pickup and transport to a landfill.
At the start of 2012, the township changed the recycling program and the residents’ part in it became a whole lot easier. Each home got one 96-gallon container (more for an extra $20 each per year). We could toss all types of paper, cardboard, and metal cans plus many kinds of plastic containers into it and wheel it to the roadside for pickup and transport to a separation center. Weekly pickups of all else went on as before. Our typical “all else” now fills one very small bag, much less than half of what it was under the old system even though we had been conscientious recyclers.
What happened to participation? Under the old “tubs sort-and-carry” program only 35 percent of homes in the township recycled. After six months of the new single-container operation, 51 percent of households were recycling and the tonnage of material collected had increased by 108 percent. By the end of the year, program growth forced the township to add a whole new collection route for recycling pickups.
Let’s hope the good recycling news keeps coming, where we live and across the nation. Unless immigration (legal and illegal) is drastically reduced or the reproduction rate drops dramatically, the population of the U.S. is projected to double in the next 70 to 80 years. Where will we find landfill space then?