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On Recycling

by / 0 Comments / 70 View / July 7, 2016

By Michael Brown

This week, the recycling truck visits my neighborhood, as it does every two weeks. Our 96-gallon container is only about one-half full, so I’ll wait and take it out the next time it’s a pickup day.
I’m grateful to the leaders of Belton for voting a couple of years ago to provide a recycling service. Recycling efforts in Texas vary. Many smaller towns don’t offer such a service – I suppose the cost is prohibitive. Prior to 2015, I had to drive out to the Temple landfill on Little Flock Road in order to recycle. I still have to go out there on occasion to deposit bottles, as the Belton program doesn’t take glass.
According to their annual report, in 2015, Waste Management collected 5,619 tons of trash from Belton homes. Of that, about 12% was from our recycling bins. Discarded newspapers account for about 80% of our recyclables. Plastic materials are about 15% and the rest is mostly aluminum and tin. In addition to the regular service, Waste Management’s “At Your Door Special Collection” provides Belton residents a way to safely dispose of hard-to-recycle items like automotive oil, chemicals, paint, and old electronics. In 2015, they picked up a little over 8 tons of those items and recycled 90% of it.
It’s surprising how much of household trash is recyclable and reusable. For example, there are many uses for old newspapers, including cleaning windows, starting a campfire, lining bird cages, and as compost. My favorite is using the Sunday comics to wrap gifts for my grandkids. You might say I’m a bit obsessive about recycling and reusing. I actually have to turn away when someone tosses a plastic bottle into the trash, or else I would have to fish it out and take it home to my yellow bin. In the kitchen, I even wash out resealable plastic bags and use them again and again. I have reusable bags that I take to the grocery store because I simply refuse to use a plastic bag when I don’t have to. Recently, I was accused of trying to save the planet – I guess in a way that’s true.
On their website, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA), states that paper, at 27%, is the greatest part of the materials going into our landfills. Plastics make up about 13%, and surprisingly, wood is about 6%. Surely we could do a better job recycling that 117 million tons. Baby diapers account for about 1.5% of the trash going into our landfills, but I’m not sure what to do about that.
The city of Austin recently set a goal of “zero waste.” They are investing in ways to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills 90% by the year 2040. Austin’s rate of recycling is currently about 40%, which is more than three times our rate in Belton. So, I guess we have some catching up to do.
Last Saturday, I, along with Cub Scout Pack 127 from Wimberley, visited the Sauer-Beckmann Living farm in Stonewall, Texas. Our docent gave us an informative look at what farm life was like in the early twentieth century. Our ancestors were pretty good at recycling and reusing just about everything. I’m old enough to remember when my parents, aunts and uncles saved the Sears catalog and corn cobs for other uses. During the Great Depression, the adage was “make do, do without, use it up, and wear it out.” Older folks know that saying well and are still living it today.
It seems we’ve come a long way in the past 100 years – from reusing virtually everything to becoming a throw-away society. However, I’m optimistic. As materials become scarcer and more expensive, I predict eventually we’ll come full circle and learn the value of recycling our materials.
Michael Brown is an education consultant and a former teacher. He can be contacted at michael.brown@utexas.edu.