"America Recycles Day" will be celebrated tomorrow. Sponsored by the EPA
and a coalition of businesses and trade associations involved in recycling,
its purpose is to increase the rate of recycling in this country. New
Haven's Recycling Educator, Heather Gilbert, called my attention to the
celebration and to the events being held this weekend. For example, Steve
Marsh, Hamden's recycling coordinator, is providing a composting
demonstration and giving away compost bins at his town's recycling center.
The average American discards more than 4 pounds of garbage every single
day. That's about three quarters of a ton of solid waste from each person
every year. Recycling that waste saves energy, resources and disposal
costs. In Connecticut, recycling keeps leaves, food wastes, glass, metals,
plastics and other wastes out of incinerators, and consequently, out of our
already-polluted air. Even if the recycled materials don't bring in money,
recycling them is usually much cheaper than burning them.
We've made some real progress. In just the last ten years, the national
recycling rate has more than doubled, from 11 to 27 percent. In our town,
the Saturday morning trip to the now-closed dump has been replaced by a
visit to the recycling center with junk mail, glass and metal containers.
Plastic bins along the road are features of the landscape in many towns and
a greater variety of materials can be recycled in them.
The rapid growth in recycling over the past decade is one of the more
hopeful signs for the survival of our species. In part because of its
environmental benefits, and in part, because it shows the effectiveness of
citizen activism and leadership. For example, for more than a decade,
grassroots groups such as Freddy Fixer and Rainbow Recycling in New Haven
and the Recycling Coalition in Hamden have led the way and inspired
education, recycling and composting programs which now save taxpayers real
money as they help the environment.
Remember when cities and citizens used to burn their leaves. Now they make
high quality compost instead. An important side effect of leaf composting
programs is more bountiful gardens as that compost is returned to the soil.
New Haven has been especially good at getting its compost to school and
community gardens. We've been using Hamden's leaf compost, made on top of
its closed landfill, to create gardens at the Lorraine D. Foster School.
As the students fill up the truck, there are always other enthusiastic
gardeners loading compost, too.
The promoters of "America Recycles Day" also want to encourage people to
buy products made from recycled materials. Indeed, that's the only way the
system will work. There has to be a cycle. Public pressure has encouraged
many businesses, organizations and government units to specify recycled
content in their purchases. At home, we do our best to use only paper and
paper products made from recycled fibers since we recycle quite a bit of
However, if we don't like the product made from recycled materials, then it
makes sense not to use the original material. Since we don't want to wear
shirts made from recycled soda bottles, we don't buy soda bottles in the
first place. In fact, we try to avoid plastic as much as possible, since
even if it is recycled, plastic always becomes, well, more plastic. It's
usually a lower grade, too, since we don't want our milk delivered in
plastic made of used pesticide or motor oil containers. The more plastic
we use and recycle, the more low-grade plastic we'll have in our
It's important not to see recycling as just another growth industry, giving
us the freedom to consume as much packaging as businesses want to sell -
just as long as it's recyclable and we recycle it. Aluminum cans, for
example, cause so much environmental and social damage, and have such a
great energy cost to make and recycle, that they should always be avoided.
And, remember that recycling is the third choice for handling our waste
problems. Reducing the amount of material we use, and reusing things in
their original form are both much gentler on the environment than recycling
This celebration reminds us ultimately that we should be more conscious of
our buying and our discarding habits.
Happy "America Recycles Day."
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1997, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Norwalk, CT).
Their collection of essays Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a
Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135,
Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14 postpaid. These essays first appeared on WSHU,
public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at
http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are available
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