Since the enactment of China’s tougher solid waste imports policy, there has been a lot of soul-searching in regards to how the U.S. manages its solid waste. It is a common theme seen in this issue of The Municipal, and I will admit while reading through the articles, I reexamined my own handling of the trash and recyclables in own house. My methods are definitely wanting — largely out of laziness in some cases — but it is a struggle I share with most of my fellow Americans.
I’ve tossed items into the trash that could be recycled or reused, or conversely I have tried to recycle items that should have never been added to my curbside recycling bin: namely, those greasy pizza boxes. I know better now, but in the past, I have been a part of the contamination problem occurring in the recycling industry.
Many states and localities are working toward reducing contamination while also increasing recycling percentages through education. In June 2019, Michigan launched a $2 million educational campaign dedicated to increasing its low recycling rate and reducing the amount of materials improperly left in curbside bins.
According to an Associated Press article by David Eggert, “Just 15% of solid waste is recycled in the state, which is the lowest in the Great Lakes Region despite Michigan’s 10-cent bottle-return law. Officials said a contributing factor is people mistakenly trying to recycle plastic bags and not rinsing their plastics, glass and metal — leading to contamination that makes materials unrecyclable and increase costs for local governments.”
A part of this campaign, “Know It Before You Throw,” will be TV ads, billboards and a website, all aimed at increasing the recycling rate to 30% by 2025.
On the other hand — and tied into China’s import ban — some municipalities are opting to shelve their recycling programs … at least for now. Writer Nicholette Carlson shares the experiences of a variety of municipalities in her article this month — those taking such an approach and others that are adapting their recycling programs to remove the acceptance of certain items.
Many jurisdictions are likely to be doing the same careful pondering with their own recycling programs. As a June 2019 post from the Sierra Club’s blog, “Stop Obsessing About Recycling,” quotes David Allaway, a senior policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, saying: “We are spending a lot of time and energy on maximizing recycling when in reality we need to be optimizing recycling.” With the article’s author, Edward Humes, writing, “To put it another, we should stop asking whether we can recycle something in favor of whether we should.”
Recycling is one component of this issue of The Municipal. We will also be covering different funding options for solid waste management; near-capacity landfills and the need to reduce the amount of waste produced; the enlistment of volunteers and community members to bust litter in public spaces; and an innovative project out of El Paso, Texas, that will turn wastewater into potable drinking water.
Until next time, stay cool during these dog days of summer!