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Big question answered: The value of recycling

Published: 5/16/2019 12:15:24 AM

(Last week, we asked readers this question: “Would you be willing to pay a fee, maybe $200 or $300 a year, if it meant your community would continue its recycling program?” Here are the responses we received.)

A troubling issue

Yes! I would pay more to assure recycling were taking place. But not everyone can afford to pay more. And how do I know that what I put in the recycling is really being recycled? This issue is terrifying for our future, for the world, for my grandchildren. We must find a way forward.



Out of the question

I already pay enough taxes to the city of Concord, and to tag a so-called recycling fee of between $200 and $300 a year is just out of the question, especially where the recycling program is non-mandatory. For me to stop recycling, it might at the most cost me $50 more a year to buy additional purple bags. So if Concord decides to stop its recycling program, oh well.



Changing the math

A decade or so ago, Canterbury implemented pay as you throw as a way to encourage recycling. The idea was simple: You need to purchase a special bag to throw away your trash but you could bring in your recyclable materials for free. But there was a twist. Every spring Canterbury has a town-wide roadside cleanup where volunteers pick up trash that has been thrown along the roads. About half of the roadside litter is recyclable and about half is not. What to do about the trash?

I really believe that almost all of the roadside cleanup volunteers would participate even if it meant buying the special bags to get rid of trash that wasn’t even their own. That’s how dedicated they are. But why put people in that situation? Why put in a disincentive for doing good?

Roadside cleanup is hard and dirty enough as it is without there being a financial penalty for doing it. So the organizers and the transfer station came up with a system where roadside cleanup trash could go in special free blue bags and be disposed of for free.

In a way the question about what towns should do when it costs more to recycle than it does to send material to landfills is another example of the roadside cleanup problem. Some towns will recycle anyway as evidenced by Canterbury’s overwhelming support at town meeting to do just that. But why put that burden on towns? And if you brought that down one step to the level of individuals paying a fee to recycle, why put that burden on people who are trying to do good?

There are a number of steps to change the math. To make landfills more expensive you could put in a state or federal tax of somewhere from $50 to $100 a ton to put anything into a landfill. That alone would tip the scales in favor or recycling. But you could go further and incentivize the use of recycled materials. Put a tax on new plastic that doesn’t contain a minimum recycled content and new paper that doesn’t contain a certain level of recycled content and so on. One way or another we need to change the equation so that doing the right thing also makes financial sense.



We are paying a fee

In response to your question on whether residents would be willing to pay a fee to continue the recycling program, I would like to remind residents of Concord and several surrounding communities that we are already paying a fee.

The collection of trash used to be included in our property taxes. A number of years ago the city switched to a pay-as-you-throw system that requires the purchase of special trash bags with no corresponding reduction in property taxes. We were told at the time that this additional fee would permit the city to implement curbside recycling. At the time, of course, recycled material had some value whereas trash had a cost.

Driving around I see most homes have a purple bag or two at the curb on trash day. At $1.25 or $2.50 per bag, most residents are already paying $65 to $130 or more per year. How about we get “New Hampshire’s Premier Research Institution” to find a way to make productive use of recycled plastic and glass, perhaps in construction material or as aggregate in roadway materials so the city can start rebuilding the roads and not just filling potholes?



Recycling affects all of us

Would I be willing to pay $200 to $300 per year to continue recycling? Absolutely! How can we put a price tag on what is right and good for our planet? Reduce, reuse and recycle is my mantra. I can’t just give up on it. People spend that money and more on coffee or cigarettes or lottery tickets but think that recycling doesn’t impact them? Oh, just wait.



Reduce, reuse, recycle

You don’t have to look far in the media for horrifying images of floating islands of trash the size of a small state, plastic straws emerging from the nostrils of sea turtles, or recyclable debris making canals impassable and beaches unwalkable. Even without these jarring reminders of what we are already doing to our planet, we simply cannot say that we’ll think about the recycling crisis tomorrow, or when the price is right, or when this stuff finally disappears, i.e. never.

The recycling efforts we already have in place in our communities cannot go out with the trash. People need to know the importance of these efforts, and the dire consequences of blithely tossing out resources and fouling our waterways, atmosphere and landfills with our trash. So, yes, I would favor imposing a fee for anything we throw out, because we all think twice when we’re hit in the wallet.

I suggest a fee, much like pay-as-you-throw, although not as high as that, for recyclables we are now in the habit of putting curbside. Since the fee would increase the more we throw out, we would be forced to reconsider what we purchase, how it is packaged and if it can be reused, or perhaps whether we need it in the first place. That’s reducing, reusing and recycling in a nutshell. And, by the way, I’d toss the nutshell in my compost pile.



Let’s do it better

I am willing to spend $200 to $300 per year to keep recycling going. Let’s improve it. I get milk (Contoocook Creamery) and yogurt (Brookford Farm) in deposited, returnable bottles. If any of the local wineries will reuse their bottles, I will find one of their wines that will be my favorite. I loved it when I lived in a small town where I put clear glass in one bin, brown in another, green in another. Aluminum cans were separate from metal cans, cardboard separate from paper. Clean recyclables have value.



A paradigm shift

Yes, I would pay $300 a year to continue recycling, but without a demand it is a dead-end solution. Significant and supportable paradigm shifts in the manufacturing practices and behaviors of American society are the solution. Our nation’s history has shown that we can recycle and reuse materials when required. My parents were neither hippies nor progressive, but our family always recycled. They were born during the Depression and lived through the rationing/recycling of World War II. However, the root cause of today’s recycling dilemma is a toxic mixture of consumer over-consumption and a lust for convenience.

Remember receiving milk and soda in glass bottles? We then returned the glass bottles to be re-used. It was easy and convenient. I understand that technological advances in the manufacturing of plastics makes it more cost-effective on many levels, but it creates greater post-use environmental waste problems.

All potential solutions are intertwined in order to be effective. First, all manufacturing must look to invest significant R&D into using recycled material for manufacturing. It is being done on a small scale, but it has to be mandated on a more massive scale. Secondly is to build on the growing social movement to be environmentally responsible. This will lead to governmental actions. Yes, I am suggesting governmental regulation. A root cause to our recycling problem is that capitalism becomes toxic when unregulated. One must be completely ignorant and in denial of human nature to believe that an unregulated free market is ever altruistic.

In terms of curbing waste, implement simple bans such as single-use plastic bags. There are cities already doing this. This is a no-brainer. There are other “convenience” consumer goods we can do without. Baristas could implement BYO travel mug policies. Go back to reusable glass containers since the demand for recycled glass has disappeared. My third solution, which David Brooks briefly mentioned in his May 6 article, is to re-invest, re-calibrate and build recycling plants to both sort and manufacture recycled material.

The Chinese are leading the charge to address their environmental crisis so consequently the demand for the world’s recycled materials has disappeared. Therefore, U.S. entrepreneurs should use this opportunity to seize the initiative to invest in environmentally responsible solutions. Environmentally conscious “millennials” are the catalyst to bringing big changes.



No other option

Yes, I would pay $200 to $300 a year to have a working recycling center. I really think we have passed the point of thinking that issues around the environment are optional.



Money or planet?

Another way to ask the question is: Do you believe it is worthwhile for each of us to “tighten our belts” and make recycling a priority in each community to save our Earth from destruction by our scientifically proven global climate crisis?

How can anyone put saving money by not recycling as a priority over saving the Earth for our descendants? One way money can be saved is by giving up the convenience of buying and using soft plastic (straws, bags, forks, knives, spoons, cups) in homes and businesses. Your grandparents or great-grandparents did, and so can you with more time- and work-saving devices than they had. And then less trash will go to landfills, where soft plastic doesn’t disintegrate. Recycling is one part of something we, as individuals, can do to help save our Earth.


New London

A motto to live by

I feel no one should pay more for recycling until we know where the money is going. Are bottles, cans, paper and plastics really being transformed into something useful, which is possible, or are they just being dropped in some other area of the country or world to pollute the land, oceans or other waterways, or the air there? Will they endanger the animals, birds, fish, humans, etc.? Environmental responsibility is often cost-effective in the long run. We need to protect our world for others, now and in the future, as others in the past have worked to give us clean air, waters and land. Contamination in the air and waters can travel great distances. Good health in the far-off lands means less chance of disease spread around the world. Transforming waste can provide jobs and perhaps new and less expensive products at times. Reduce, reuse, recycle is a great motto.



A recycling moonshot

Pay more for recycling? Maybe. When we lived in the western suburbs of Chicago in the 1980s, the municipality gathered trash at the curb. We paid for this service through our taxes.

When we moved to a nearby township, its services didn’t include refuse removal; we had to contract with a waste hauler to pick up our trash. Eventually their service included recycling certain items.

Either directly or indirectly we pay to dispose of trash. Would I be willing to pay, let’s say, the equivalent of $1 a day to ensure my town recycled my glass, aluminum, metal and plastic? Probably. Though that said, because we are careful about what we purchase, recycle assiduously, and compost kitchen and other vegetative matter religiously, normally we visit the transfer station, a.k.a. the Dump, only once a month. This probably is far less often than many other households in town.

I would be more enthusiastic about paying more to dispose of trash if part of the money we spent for disposal was invested to find ways to reuse the trash we create.

If this nation put our collective minds to it, we could solve the quandary of what to do with our refuse – especially plastic. We put men on the moon because our leaders made that quest a national priority. Why not apply a similar attitude to disposing of plastic?

Here’s a thought. Roads throughout our towns, state and nation are deteriorating because, in part, the product used to resurface them – which includes petroleum – is expensive. In India, England and Europe, inventors are finding ways to use certain types of plastic as a component in road-building material. According to a quick internet search, plastic-bitumen composite roads have several advantages, including:

1) Several types of plastic can be used to create plastic-bitumen composite roads; as a result, the sorting process is less labor intensive and less expensive.

2) Adding plastic to an asphalt mix can reduce the viscosity, which in turn means the product can be cooler when applied. This lowers emissions from carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds.

3) Plastic-bitumen composite roads also wear better; the surfaces remain smooth, require less maintenance and absorb sound more effectively.

If it became this nation’s mission to find a use for plastics that merged with rebuilding roads and highways, some savvy entrepreneur would find a cost-effective way to do it.



Worth the price

Yes! Sign us up. We would be happy to pay $200 to $300 a year to support Bow’s recycling program. We agreed wholeheartedly with the lifestyle decisions described in David Brooks’s recent article and the practice of hauling home packaging to our recycling bin from hither and yon, as well as composting.

We remember the town meeting where community members spoke of the hassles and the ease of rinsing cans and bottles, and we came away well-pleased with the town’s commitment to save the world every day through garbage awareness.

When our family convened over Mother’s Day, our 20-something children first reticent over an extra $200 to $300 addition to the budget reconsidered the cost as less than a dollar a day, and it was a win.

We’re looking forward to hearing how we can support our recycling committee to find ways to help the town manage responsible trash policies.



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