Recycling in America

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Americans and the communities, towns and cities in which they live have for years managed “recycle” programs that involve aluminum and steel containers (cans), cardboard, plastics (bottles, etc), glass (bottles), mixed paper and often other common household refuse. Were these items not to be recycled, they would simply add to the already massive amount of trash being placed in landfills. But, is it that simple? Perhaps not.

When I was working in municipal government in the late 1990s I was told by a high level manager at Waste Industries that so long as items were not mixed (by type) when placed by homeowners in collection curb-side containers then they would be sent to recycle facilities for processing. However, if loads were collected that had steel cans mixed in with aluminum for instance, then that load would most likely be rejected at the processing facility, and then sent to a nearby landfill with the rest of the common trash. It was/is important therefore to place the correct type of material in its proper collection container.

It takes thousands of aluminum cans (at 55 cents per pound per the photo I made recently at a local collection/processing facility) to provide significant financial gain. But, when you add up the total amount of cans being collected and recycled in specific geographic region it makes the process worthwhile…for Waste Industries as an example. As for us doing the actual recycling, it’s perhaps the warm feeling we receive when doing something to protect our environment that is the goal. We get zero financial gain personally, unless of course we want to collect tons of items ourselves…at 55 cents per pound! Still, we do it as a matter of habit these days and that’s good in my opinion. Unfortunately there are still way too many Americans who discard their trash along roads and elsewhere. How many aluminum, plastic and glass drink containers have you seen recently along roads in your community? What makes me very angry is when I see the refuse of a fast-food “kid’s meal” laying on a road shoulder somewhere. It galls me because what these idiot adults (hardly good parents) are doing is teaching their kids that it’s OK to toss their trash out of a car or truck window. Sad…but true.

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