Recycling and reality — a balancing act
This is an invitation for you to take notice and possibly reflect on whether you have a “threshold” when it comes to when or if you take measures to avoid making waste.
It will likely not come as a surprise to hear that I have distinct lines when it comes to trash making that I rarely cross. It may come as a bigger surprise to learn that I have become slightly more flexible over the years. This could be due to getting older and partly due to the changing (diminishing opportunities) available locally and nationally. I’d like to think it’s a combination of the two.
The good news is that our reality necessitates the esteemed and dreaded (for some) focus on the first two R’s: reducing and reusing.
Some examples are:
During the good ol’ days when we had the luxury of two plastic round-up events a year, I was ‘somewhat’ obsessive about collecting every plastic morsel that crossed my path to clean and recycle at these special plastic collections. I used to cut the tips off the end of the plastic toothpaste tube to access more paste and then soak until no trace of toothpaste remained. I saved the dental floss container and when the last centimeter of string was out, I popped open the container to remove the tiny metal cutting piece. The metal went in my metal collection bin eventually bound for the transfer station, for free metal drop off.
These days I still recycle the piece of metal and toss the plastic parts in the trash. I cannot put the plastic in the blue commingle bin without contaminating the load. I feel uncomfortable with "diversion efforts" in which plastic is transported to an incineration facility that burns these resources for a one-time "benefit" of generating some electricity.
The process is not clean nor is it renewable. The landfill would be a better choice over burning. Incinerating "spent" prescription drugs is an improvement to landfilling or flushing.
Balancing the disposal of items we have used up or grown tired of can be challenging when we are conscientious about consuming and disposal. This process changes depending on a variety of variables that are sometimes moving targets. City to city and state to state is different. For example, it can range from states with no bottle bill to being in Oregon with a bottle bill. In fact, Oregon’s bottle bill will expand in 2018 to include more types of drinks, with 10 cents for each added at the register.
Every time we buy something we cast a vote with our dollars. Each new acquisition will eventually require reuse, recycling or disposal. As consumers we cast a second vote with how we dispose of the item. If it's a plastic water bottle that we use once and toss it in the trash, that choice obliterates the resource in the plastic and it donates the dime paid for the deposit to the OBRC (Oregon Beverage and Recycling Cooperative). They receive more than $1 million annually in unredeemed deposits. If the plastic water bottle ends up in the mixed recycling (commingle) cart, it will get recycled and the OBRC gets your dime.
I invite you to consider what you are willing to do and practice integrating a new system into daily living while making room for the imperfections that keep us human. It’s no different than the ongoing challenge of exercising. Some weeks or seasons are better than others and we keep at it.
“Every act of refusal is also an act of assent. Every time we say no to consumer culture, we say yes to something more beautiful and sustaining. Life is not something we go through or that happens to us; it’s something we create by our decisions. We can drift through our lives, or we can use our time, our money, and our strength to model behaviors we believe in, to say 'This is who I am.'” — Kathleen Dean Moore.
— Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a decade. You may reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.