Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 3-12-06
Jeff Gill

Recycle Your Thinking

Mostly, we recycle.
As much stuff as can be quickly and readily kept out of the landfill, with a decent chance of actually going back into the production cycle, we bin up and take at intervals to the local recycling center.
We’re not compulsive or frantic about it . . . no one dives into the kitchen wastebasket to grab something that should have gone out to the garage, and sometimes even a recyclable container goes into the bag.
Rational recycling takes into account the fact that we want to preserve resources, not waste them. If putting something into the bin, especially when we’ve just taken a load the day before and the weather is warm, a container that needs a bunch of washing out with hot water is going to trash out, not going into recycling. What is the good of using up so many resources (energy for hot water, let alone soap) for a lesser savings?
In fact, the main motivation for our family to make recycling a priority is reducing the burden on landfills, where basically all of our municipal waste ends up. Resource and economic savings on most recyclables is modest, which is why modern recycling centers rarely can fully pay their own way.
The longer term "social cost" of jamming landfills full, which may not be money out of our pockets right now, is going to be paid by the Little Guy and his offspring. Avoiding packaging where feasible is even more helpful to those future generations, but sending back into the cycle all your corrugated cardboard boxes, and the bottles, cans, and jugs which are nearly unavoidable will make a difference.
On the one hand, we need to be realistic and understand that we’re paying money now to support recycling which may well cost more if we wait a hundred years. We can’t stop just because aluminum cans don’t pay as big a stack of quarters as it did a few years ago.
On the other hand, if we recycle for pure reflexive idealism, dumb things can happen.
A recent trip to the center left me wrestling with the dangerous temptation to point out to a stranger in public that they’re being, um, non-thoughtful, shall we say.
The vehicle, rear gate covered with outdoorsy and environmental sentiments, was already there when I arrived with my three bins in the trunk. Pulling in, I turned off the car, walked around to the back, and looked over with a smile to my socially conscious neighbor.
Their vehicle was running. It ran the entire time the Little Guy and I went from opening to opening, with our bottles and flattened boxes and such slid into their categories with satisfying thumps and crashes. Young Master thinks we recycle for the sound effects, and he may be half right.
But the Socially Conscious Neighbor had a large undifferentiated pile of recyclables, which is certainly no beef of mine, which were being slowly sorted into handfuls and carried over to the labelled entry ports, all while a large internal combustion engine was running in "Idle."
I’m no environmental engineer, but can we just hazard a guess that more energy was being wasted than even a best case scenario would give back to the earth out of the recycling itself? And wouldn’t a mildly thoughtful person realize this: unless they see recycling as a purely automatic good in and of itself.
So the first object to recycle is our thinking. Reduce the packaging that you can with selective purchases and bulk items, remove what you can from the waste stream without using up so much cleaning time and materials that you’ve flipped the equation of savings, and figure out where you can use recycled products in your life to complete the cycle.
And then there’s global warming; stay tuned for your carbon diet right here.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; you can find out where the nearest recycling bins to you are by emailing him at disciple@voyager.net.