October 11, 2006
The Last Blue Bag
When recycling (and our plan for it) becomes garbage
Announcement: We regret to inform you that, due to constraints on the common sense, we’re slashing a citywide service by at least 75 percent, while its cost remains, oh, about the same.
The propensity to agree heartily with Marti Rutherford is acquired very slowly indeed, but at times a quick sound bite depicts just the kind of person I’d want representing me at City Hall: her comments on the proposed recycling changes, and her vote against them at first reading, certify that our views align on this – however obliquely that may be. Weekly curbside recycling is expensive when so few participate, but cutting the frequency to monthly appears to incur similar costs, and participation will almost certainly decline further. This “plan” can only be described as asinine. Another City Council member with whom I’ve found fault in the past (think “free speech zones”) is Sally Robinson, who recently mentioned that our attractiveness to all those industries trying to relocate is impacted by the rollback. While image isn’t everything, a civic failure such as this isn’t likely to be well regarded by curious firms. And didn’t Mayor Ron Littlefield campaign on the premise that he will actively “sell” our city to potential job providers?
This recycling roller coaster ride has made me queasy. Let’s retrace it, though, for the sake of understanding just where we might be going next. When curbside was implemented, all household paper, glass, metal (steel, tin, aluminum), cardboard, and plastics marked (1) or (2) could be set out once a week. You didn’t even have to sign up: the trucks just came. The paper and corrugated cardboard were kept separate, while all the other materials could be mixed. In 2005, the decision was made to exclude glass; but why was paper still not kept separate? It would seem that sorting and quality would have been kept easier and better, respectively. At the same time, residents were required to contact the city to elect participation. This was the first major step backward, as a household is more easily convinced to join the program given an absence of red tape.
Then it was announced that it was all going away (and being “replaced” by a few collection stations) as of October 1. The deserved outcry that followed led to a task force, led by a man well-versed in corporate “newspeak.” Now, we’ve signed up to pay Orange Grove more; the program costs fail to diminish proportionately to the schedule cutback; and we’re going to hire an outside firm to study the obvious fact that our participation will trend lower and lower. I dare you to place wagers on the notion that the study findings will recommend increasing pickup to twice monthly. Come on, suckers, lay your money down.
Ron Littlefield was Public Works Commissioner under a previous charter. He has assisted in great civic accomplishments over the course of his public career – including, if I heard right, the invention of recycling. What has happened? On the other hand, why has something failed to happen within our city’s public? The mentality that places recycling solely in the domain of “tree-huggers” – is that our reality? Not really; more education, higher income, and a rather indefinable “cosmopolitan quotient” tend to indicate an interest in recycling. But why wouldn’t a practical, hard-working Joe Six-pack be just as concerned with reducing consumption (better on the budget), reusing materials (ditto), and recycling the unusable (those landfills are only so big, and the stuff’s gotta go somewhere)? As the politicians say, “good people disagree” on many things, but this one is quite simple, and its opposition seems borne of stubbornness and lack of awareness. But that’s not all. When the new changes go into effect, many of those who have until now casually experimented with the convenient method will lose whatever ambition they started with.
After the task force recommendations were completed, it was astounding to hear most of the October 3 conversation between Mayor Littlefield and talk radio host Jeff Styles, but especially when the concept of “profitability” entered. As if sewer plants are profitable? When even this many people live together in urban harmony, certain things must be taken care of. Those things cost money; they are a net liability. Taxation is a fair (could be made fairer; we’ll talk) way of pooling that money and making sure the necessities get done. One necessity, surely, is figuring out what to do with all our waste. Without question, this includes the brush collection program, the household hazardous materials center, and other means to reduce the infamous “waste stream” – but why should it not include a sensible, well-marketed, politely enforced curbside recycling program?
Our family skipped a week of setting out the recyclables, just to get (literally) half an idea of what a month would be like. It’s an untenable situation, even at two weeks. We regularly recycle more material than we put in the green garbage can. That’s not to be preachy; each household is different, and that’s just where ours sits on the scale. The point is that something will have to give. Here’s hoping that what doesn’t give is the principle whereby each individual effectively manages his or her own “footprint” on the environment, even though it looks like we’ll be losing part of the network in place to make such an effort reasonable.
Pulsations | By joe lance | 08:54 AM