Saturday, April 21, 2007

It should be easier to recycle

I have a problem with the idea that we can extract more and more resources from the environment and produce more and more waste at the same time. Both these things are putting stress on the environment which ultimately puts stress on our ability to survive. It makes sense to "reduce, reuse, and recycle" so that we solve the problem of how to survive without becoming a parasite that destroys its own host.
Recycling is not sexy. If I've got boxes of paper, cardboard, flattened tin cans, boxes of junk mail, empty frozen orange juice containers full of dead batteries, and boxes and shelves full of empty glass bottles it might look more like a case of premature "old-timer's disease" than an exercise in virtue. It is not going to make chicks dig me. Recycling is developing a "relationship" with garbage. And it's a lot more pleasant relating to others or even to our automobiles than to our garbage.
I don't have a car (by choice), so about every two weeks I take a couple of boxes on the back of my bike. Frederick St. is a long steep hill - it's a killer, but it helps keep me in shape. Five years ago I didn't care much about recycling. Too much trouble. Too time consuming. Messy and frustrating. So, what changed?

Perhaps it was turning fifty and developing a sudden interest in gardening. I started to build a compost pile. The idea of taking some of what we get from the earth and returning it to the earth, is very appealing. And I love the earthworms. They are attracted like a magnet to a compost pile. And when the compost is ready, after about a year, it's like black gold for the garden. Your plants actually show their appreciation for the effort. That's my inspiration for all the other kinds of recycling.

They make it a lot more convenient to recycle in the big cities like Vancouver and Seattle. They have a "blue box" system. Once a week people put their cardboard and tin cans into a blue box and put it at their curbside. Then a big recycling truck comes and takes it away.
We don't have a blue box system here in Prince Rupert for two reasons: First, city hall doesn't want to be bothered with the organizational hassle. And secondly this type of box does not have a lid, and this is incompatible with our local wind and rain.

A "blue bag" system would be more convenient - put your recyclables into blue bags and park them at the curb on certain days. Let the recycling guys pick it up and sort them all at the depot. Why this hasn't been tried is because it would cost more money because more workers would need to be hired to do the sorting and the conveyor belt would need to be expanded.
I've talked to people who want to recycle, but find sorting recyclables and driving them up to the depot too time consuming. A blue bag system would work better for some of these people. But we need extra money and more coordination between the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District (SQRD), who run the recycling depot, and the city of Prince Rupert.
When they moved the landfill about ten years ago, people talked about the new landfill lasting fifty years. Now that looks increasingly unlikely. As the volume of our garbage increases so will the expense of finding another landfill site. The city would save money if more people recycled because it would take longer for the landfill to fill up.
Recycling is a "public good" - it benefits society as a whole rather than each individual on his own. There is little incentive to do it for profit because few people are willing to pay for it. The city ought to provide for public goods because it benefits the city as a whole. The big problem is perception. City hall perceives Prince Rupert as too small and inconsequential for either sewage treatment or a serious recycling program. City council ought to have enough vision to see that making it easier to recycle will benefit everyone.

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