Grab Your Growler: Four Things We Don’t want to Know about Recycling

In 1984 the local garbage hauler launched curbside pick-up of recyclables in our town. We were issued a small blue box for glass, big blue bin for co-mingled recyclables, gray bin for yard waste, green bin for garbage. It’s a good feeling to get everything all sorted out.

How are we doing? Official statistics look good. In 1992, 9 million pounds of material was “repurposed.” This past year, 62 million pounds. Yeah!

Wait. What does “repurposed” mean?

Saint Lucia and her gouged out eyes. Sometimes I’d rather not see, either. Photo: wikicommons

1. Glass: The machines which sort glass are expensive. Our town doesn’t have one.  Best case: glass is crushed and used as drainage material or for roads. Usually it goes to the dump.

2. Plastic:  Most is sent to China for recycling. Last year China announced a new Green Fence policy, and stopped taking all but the cleanest, tidiest bales of plastic, and only certain types.  If it there is a number 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 on the bottom of a container, China won’t take it, so it’s probably getting dumped in a landfill.

3. Cardboard: Has to be clean.  Greasy pizza boxes with cheese stuck on them? To the dump.

Not to diss the pie chart, or the efforts, but what this shows is a lot of stuff not recovered. Source: The Portland Mercury, “Oregon Knows Its Garbage”

4. Block styrofoam.  This has never been picked up curbside, but for awhile there were places willing to take it. Not now. Everybody’s storage spaces are full of the stuff.

Luckily, several local breweries offer a waste-free option to drown our sorrows with while we contemplate next moves.

Beer jug, refillable at local breweries.

How goes the recycling efforts in your town?  Time to lose ourselves in the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch?


    • Stories conflict about whether she gouged out her own eyes, or if someone else did. I’m with you on the cinnamon rolls.


  • Now add to this the electronic equipment we all go through. Piles and piles of old computers, phones, music players, etc. Luckily there are places that will take these used products, but what they eventually do with them, I’m not sure.


  • Oh man, we’re recycle nuts out here. When the hubby and I visited Victoria years ago we looked for recycle bins, finding none we kept all our recycle things in a back and brought it all the way back down to So. Calif with us to recycle back home. Thankfully, we drove. But, really all the cans had so much recycle that was wasted and it pained me. Still does. Thanks, Julia.


    • Me too. I know it’s silly to keep separating the glass from the co-mingle, at least for the time being, but it feels so wrong to put it in the trash. Motivates me to carry my insulated mug around though.


        • Right — except that curbside pickup means it just goes to the dump! The haulers are pretending to recycle it so we feel better I guess. I’ll take a page from your notebook and try to find places that will actually recycle it, and of course, try to use less!


    • Clearly in our town, there was a semi-secret decision that the cost isn’t worth it. How weird to discover that they are pretending to recycle anyway!

      Yeah, we were all pretty casual about burning when we were growing up. It was a less crowded time.


    • Time to gear up for the world-wide party to come, all of us grinning ear to ear, and standing shoulder to shoulder. Literally.


  • Comment from Andy B via e-mail:

    Good point. I’ve been told that here in metropolitan Portland, OR, much recycled trash and garbage goes to a dump. Portlanders show a decided preference for ignoring this strange outcome. After all, how much time can we spend of our short lives worrying perpetually about unintended consequences?

    What annoys me is that incineration is proving to be a feasible alternative and we are lagging behind in developing economically feasible furnaces. See and many other links.

    Incineration does require investment, so why are we pouring billions into world-wide military dominance, a policy which in itself creates tremendous waste, a sinister portion of which is hazardous? That’s apart form human misery and lost lives.

    People roll their eyes when told that about 60% of our discretionary budget is spent on current and past wars.
    Couldn’t we spare a fraction of this for incinerating our garbage?


  • We do our best to separate our recycles, only to see the trash men mistaking the CLEARLY marked bucket for trash and throw it in the back of their truck.
    I’m not sure how much education is provided to the caregivers of our recycles, but I’m going to guess not much.


  • Those stinkers. I suspect it’s not education though, but more like here, where everybody goes through the motions because it makes people feel better, when in fact, there is no cheap way to recycle, so curbside pickups just go to the dump.


  • You will be glad to know that we Americans take our pretense of recycling overseas with us. When in Kazakhstan I lived in the compound where all the Chevron oil workers and families lived. We all had our recycling garbage cans, ones in which you could put just about anything. (Mostly it was glass and aluminum booze containers, because everyone there drank so much. But that is another story.) Anyway, nobody else in the whole country was recycling as far as we could tell, and everyone in the compound figured all our recycling was just going to the dump.


      • And to the level of Idaho. Here in Boise if you want to have curbside glass recycling you have to pay an extra dollar a month for a designated glass curbie. Now there is an incentive for glass recycling. Especially when you couple that with the fact that we have humongous garbage cans, one with a weight limit of 225 pounds per week. That right 100Kg per week. So most folks just pitch the glass in the garbage. But as someone who learned to recycle in Eugene in the 70’s I just can’t do that. So i save the glass in a box under the sink till full and then haul it to a drop box in Albertsons parking lot. I don’t know where it goes from there. The Eugene landfill perhaps?


        • Mayhaps. The $1/month sounds promising actually. The trouble here is that glass is sent to a Portland distributor, who charges to send it to a sorter, usually in San Francisco, and the hauler here doesn’t want to pay the charge, or more accurately, to charge us for it. They should try! Then again, a dollar a month might send some into apoplexy, judging from the fuss people make here about the nickel charged for plastic grocery bags.

          Good to know your Eugene training sunk deeply.


  • This is too depressing. Luckily, the lovely animated snow falling through your blog is adequately distracting. If only the snow could cover up our sad secret.


  • Depressing or funny? I can’t decide. Our frugal nature battles our market nature, all the way to the dump. What to do? By the way, some big cities are recycling glass. It’s the smaller burgs that are going through the motions, if that.


  • We have mixed stream recycling (everything goes in the green bin) but I’m afraid to ask what happens after that. Your list is depressing. See photos of what is washing up on beaches is depressing, too. In Java, the water is full of trash.


  • Well, in Germany we recycle and repurpose any and everything that can be (three (glass, plastic, paper and bio bins in almost every yard); we separate everything in the kitchen, no stress. It’s normal – nothing to debate or lose sleep over, it’s just culture. To actually drop something on the ground is rare, inconsiderate and classless behavior. Environmental issues aren’t in dispute: the evidence is clear. We are responsible citizens.


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