PAT TAYLOR: For W.P., Recycling A Win-Win
A couple of meetings into discussions, it looks as if the village of Whispering Pines might be on track to roll out a communitywide recycling program. I say hallelujah, praise heaven, and pass the aluminum cans.
I know that in the roaring decade prior to the late economic slowdown, it's been such an "earth people" kind of thing to say in public, but I can't see much downside to the recycling question. I congratulate Southern Pines and Pinehurst for launching theirs.
From casual observations, most people never give the slightest thought to what they throw away. Bottles, cans, aluminum, paper -- all go to the same place, equally unloved and worthless once used. The packaging industry has encouraged our throwaway society. It's worked for a long time that way. After all, we've always had lots of space to put our waste.
It is (and should be) mostly an economic decision for a town to implement a program like recycling, especially one that requires a significant commitment in capital and/or labor. If it's cheaper to throw all the waste into one bag (or two, or three, or four) and have someone sweep by a couple of times a week to pick them up and dump them in a bigger pile, then that's what we should do.
Now, several trends have converged to make recycling socially "cool" again and put it back on the table.
Conspicuous wastefulness is out of favor socially, for starters. Global warming and helping Mother Earth has waxed and waned over the years in the public consciousness. It's always easier to melt glass, plastic and metal and make new products of them than to dig the original materials in the first place.
It takes a lot less energy, and thus reduces the demand for foreign oil; lessens the pollution from creating the energy to smelt or refine products; and saves valuable natural resources for our grandchildren, etc., etc. As if that's ever really been a public concern.
But there is also a troublesome question of where we're going to keep putting all this garbage and trash. There is a difference between garbage and trash, by the way. Garbage is animal or vegetable matter that is thrown away during the production of food, while trash is more general, including things like yard waste, paper products, household items discarded. Most of what we throw away is trash, and a lot of trash can be recycled and not go to a landfill.
The price we pay for putting waste in a landfill rarely comes close to the true cost of operating one. As we run out of landfill space, the cost of "tip fees" is expected to spiral dramatically in coming years and beyond. It's kind of like the price of any commodity as it becomes scarcer and more precious.
I can frame up the question of whether to recycle or not to recycle in a single observation. Every Monday and Thursday, I take out my little bag of trash. We recycle everything we can and have a compost pile. Our two-person trash usually weights about three to four pounds and takes up less than half of the space of the bag.
My good neighbors, on the other hand, don't recycle. There are four of them.. But they usually have three or four full bags per pickup (six to eight per week) overflowing from the trash cans. Literally, they generate six to eight times the waste we do, with only twice the people.
It's not easy to be a recycler in Whispering Pines. We drive eight miles to the recycling site in Carthage (and I'm glad it's there). We separate green glass from brown and clear, newspaper from office paper and magazines, steel cans from aluminum, and put them all in separate bins scattered around the site. It usually takes me about 30 minutes to sort and unload once I get there.
Selfishly, I hope Whispering Pines puts in recycling so I can put all of it in one plastic bin and be done until the next week. But it's worth doing, even if we have to keep trekking to Carthage once a month. It is the right thing to do for a lot of reasons.
I just hope everyone else starts thinking the same way. Recycling works best when it's a community mindset.
Pat Taylor is advertising director for The Pilot. Contact him at email@example.com.
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