Fandango’s Provocative Question #169

And the question is:

Most recycling programs instruct us to thoroughly wash and dry the items (other than paper or cardboard) before putting them in the recycling bin. If you lived in an area that is suffering from a severe drought (as I do), would you choose to waste the water necessary to comply with those instructions, would you ignore them and throw unwashed items in the recycling bin, or would you put recyclable but unwashed items in the trash (landfill) bin?

Around here, we have “single stream” recycling. This means everything goes in one container, although we tend to tie our cardboard boxes separately. We don’t have quite as serious water shortage as out west, but we are beginning to go into our long dry summer, now our standard summer weather.

We had a very wet spring with rain nearly every day in March and April. Since then we’ve only a little rain in May and one rainy day in the past two weeks. We used to get rain in the summer. You could almost count on thunder storms after a long, hot, muggy day, but that doesn’t happen anymore.

For the past ten years, we’ve had very dry summer, often with no rain at all in May and June. We also aren’t getting the amount of snow we used to get, so there’s no spring melt down. Most rain falls in early spring, late summer and early fall.

The climate is changing. These very dry summers seem to be part of that change. It means -wells which have always been dependable may not be quite as dependable anymore.

Our recycling truck only comes every other week, so we have to hold the stuff in the house for quite a while. If I didn’t rinse out cans and bottle, they would stink. Things that require an awful lot of water to clean, I toss into the trash. We may not have as bad a drought as yours, but all our water comes from a well. If it runs dry, we are in trouble, so I’m careful. We don’t water gardens or lawns, though I do water the flowers in pots. There are only five pots out there and I have to hope five plants won’t run our well dry.

More disturbingly is where our recycling actually goes? In Boston, we discovered it was just getting dumped out with the trash. They sent trucks to collect it, but it went nowhere.

Today, I checked again. The trash used to go to local land fill areas, but they ran out of room and closed down last year. Since then, our non-hazardous trash had been going to upstate New York landfills, but they too are full. China used to take a lot of our recyclables, but stopped accepting it about 5 years ago.

I have to wonder if our recycling is actually being recycled. The U.S. hasn’t put in anywhere near the number of recycling plants it needs, so a lot of what we think is getting recycled isn’t actually going anywhere.

In Massachusetts, only 25% to 35% of recyclable waste actually gets recycled.

That doesn’t sound like nearly enough. The rest of the stuff goes to landfills, and there are not many left. The ones in upstate New York are shutting down if they haven’t already closed. I heard we are going to ship non-hazardous material to landfills in Ohio. Who know where it will go after that?

Considering how badly we need these facilities, you’d think someone would be building them, wouldn’t you? I know recycling hasn’t been profitable in the past, but I think profitability might not be our main issue. There’s no giant hole in the middle of the earth where the trash goes. If we don’t recycle, we will die amidst heaps of garbage if we don’t first die of water shortages, floods, or fires.

There’s not much point in worrying about how we take care of our recycling if it isn’t being recycled.

Categories: #FPQ, Anecdote, climate change, Provocative Questions, Water

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10 replies

  1. A few ideas.
    For Christmas our daughter gave us bee’s waxed paper. It’s like old-fashioned waxed paper but thicker, more durable and can be folded over bowls or wrapped around things.
    We rinse it off and have been using it for six months now. No more plastic wrap.

    To rinse cans and bottles, I leave them in the sink. Each time I wash or rinse my hands, I get as much water/soap into those containers as I can. It only take a little water to clean most containers.
    You can rinse a milk jug w/ a 1/4 cup of water. I rinse twice.

    There are two solutions to our problem. First get the manufacturers to use different materials. Remember when soda and ketchup came in glass bottles? Most electronics are packaged in paper product and not Styrofoam, so there is some progress.
    They have to change and reduce packaging. I have seen some changes.

    Secondly, we need to not buy all this stuff and when we do we need to try and recycle and re-use what we can. We bought a carpet from Wayfair last year. It arrived wrapped in a massive sheet of plastic.
    I used that plastic to cover my raised bed this spring. Now it’s in my shed waiting to cover my tomatoes in October. We still bought a brand new carpet. I know.


    • I agree. Almost everything I use in my kitchen can be composted included sponges. I don’t use any toxic cleansers — except bleach. We use a lot of vinegar and baking soda for cleaning and it actually does as good or better a job than anything else we’ve used. It isn’t even more work.

      The thing is, though, what we do is so little compared with what needs doing, unless not only our government, but other first world countries actually do something serious the things we do won’t amount to much. I’m not feeling optimistic because I’m not seeing any major nation doing much of anything except blowing smoke.


    • I probably should mention that we don’t use plastic wrap. I have containers with lids. They are not throw away containers and I have been using most of them for at least a decade. Every once in a while, one cracks, but otherwise? I wash them when they are dirty and reuse them. I recycle at home anything that can be reused and find ways to reuse things. For one thing, not only is it basic recycling, it also saves us a lot of money. This is just as well because as the prices go up, our fixed income keeps getting smaller.


  2. Nature recycles everything. It somehow learned, long ago, that anything less is unacceptable and unsustainable. Us humans still have a long way to go.


  3. I do wonder how much of the stuff I put in my recycling bin actually gets recycled. I’ll have to see if I can find out what the stats are in California.


    • Since yours is such a huge state, they probably have things divided up by counties or areas. I was not as surprised as I should have been. I’d had a long chat with the trash collections people and they said it was getting more difficult by the week to find anyplace to take trash. So, ironically, just because they collect it doesn’t mean it gets recycled. There may be some states that are better than others, though I would have thought Massachusetts was better than it is.

      This country isn’t doing ANYTHING to handle climate change. Lots of big promises and absolutely zero action. Do you know that the actual price of a barrel of oil is the same as it was 6 months ago? All these price rises are refineries gouging everyone, trying to convince us that we can’t stop drilling and fracking and burning. And all of this to retain some jobs and help places like Exxon get even more gigantically rich. Pathetic, isn’t it?

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