Posts Tagged ‘Recycling’

The Green Economy Starts at Home

February 12, 2012

I’m digging into our kitchen garbage can to recover items that someone threw into the wrong bin. It’s become a ritual of sorts.

I find eggshells from this morning’s breakfast, a paper cup, a couple of torn plastic bags and a banana peel.

My husband rolls his eyes and says “yes, yes” as I start my lecture about how every little action counts.

We live in a country that produces more municipal waste per capita than most nations, and where nearly 66 percent of the 250 million tons of garbage we generated in 2010 ended up in landfills.

This is bad news because garbage dumps are a major producer of methane gas in the United States and many other countries. Methane is that often-overlooked greenhouse gas that is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and thus a major contributor to climate change.

(Anybody noticed some strange weather lately?)

Thankfully, I happen to live in a town where a recycling truck does rounds every week to pick up cardboard, plastics, tin cans and other items destined for a second life. Leaves and other yard waste is collected separately and composted into mulch that is later sold back to home owners.

More than 40 percent of my town’s waste was recycled in 2011 through these voluntary programs, which everybody I know participates in.

It makes us part of a rapidly growing, green economy that is generating millions of dollars in revenue for forward-looking businesses and thousands of new jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago.

Our milk cartons, wine bottles, magazines, and empty cans are hauled to a nearby recycling sorting plant owned by Waste Management, one of the largest garbage collection and recycling companies in the United States.

The 85 million tons of trash that were recycled or composted in the U.S. in 2010 kept about 186 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere. That is equivalent to taking 36 million cars off the road for a year.

What’s more, some of Waste Management’s workers who are not already busy recycling are now in the business of turning landfill methane gas into energy or fuel for trucks.

Of course, the less garbage we generate in the first place, the better off our communities and environment will be.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to build landfills in our country and for good reason. In the past, many dumps were located in poor and rural areas where people didn’t have the resources or power to fight pollution.

Environmental regulations of such facilities have increased, but people’s willingness to live next-door to a garbage dump has not.

This is where America’s growing, $14-billion recycling industry comes in. Worldwide, this industry is now worth $200 billion, on par with the gross domestic product of countries such as Portugal and Malaysia, the Bureau of International Recycling reports.

Those banana peel and egg shells I dig out of our kitchen garbage have a job, too. They end up in a compost bin in our back yard where food scraps are slowly transformed into rich soil for the garden.

The compost bin is my very own, green economy.


Recycle – what for?

January 31, 2009

Ouch. Another wine bottle tossed into the kitchen trash can. Another empty cracker box, plastic milk jug, soda can, margarine container, folded newspaper. It’s Christmas and the amount of trash we produce during one single family dinner is enormous. N932064_city_dumpothing gets recycled and nobody seems to care.

Then my mother-in-law makes a remarkable and unexpected statement: “One of my New Year’s resolutions is to start recycling,” she declares. She has barely finished her sentence before I get to work, digging wine bottles out of the trash. “We’ll keep them in the garage for now,” I tell my surprised in-laws.

This is what Sweden does to you. It turns you into a recycling zealot. Once a week, the garbage truck showed up in our Stockholm suburb to weigh our garbage. The more garbage we produced, the higher our monthly bill would be.

Those of us who separated our organic food waste and stuck it in biodegradable bags in a special trash can paid less than those who would throw everything in the main trash can. And those who produced less garbage by bringing paper, plastics, cans and glass to one of the many recycling stations in our county paid even less.

Recycling, to Swedes, is a lifestyle.

Every weekend, I would fill our Honda Combi with bags of 736426_recycle_2waste. Green glass was separated from clear glass, plastics from newspapers, soup cans from milk cartons, and thrown into large green containers. Plastic soda bottles and beer cans, however, would go in a special bag destined for the grocery store.

There, people lined up in front of large machines that swallowed the cans, crunched them up and spit out a receipt. We’d give the store cashier the receipt and the bottle redemption was deducted from our grocery bill.

A small incentive, but it worked – just like the threat of a larger garbage bill did. No wonder, only 4 percent of Swedish garbage ends up in the landfill.

Although the country of 9 million produces nearly 24 percent more waste today than a decade ago (4.7 million tons), nearly 50 percent of all Swedish trash is recycled. Another 46 percent is incinerated at high temperatures to produce heat for apartment buildings in metropolitan areas. By comparison, more than half of all municipal waste in the United States still still went to the landfill in 2007, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest report.

This is not rocket science. Give people a financial incentive and efficient recycling programs and they do the right thing. So why don’t we?