I put a question mark in the title because I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it is. Looking at my own personal history, I grew up in a time in which we threw everything into one pile. The bags from our trash compactor, the little bags from the bathrooms, bedrooms and laundry room all went into the same collection truck as the grass clippings, pulled weeds and bush trimmings. The only thing we saved were plastic soda bottles and cans and it was only because we could get 10 cents for each one. That was the extent of my recycling universe.
Of course my current understanding of my recycling universe has expanded almost beyond what I can keep track of. A dictionary’s definition of the verb, recycle, is to convert (waste) into reusable material, to return (material) to a previous stage in a cyclic process or to use again. That makes sense. But do all the reasons why we recycle, make sense? Most people might take the simplest explanation, to help preserve the environment. Then that means whatever efforts we put forth to recycle, cannot do more harm to the environment than it does good. The same logic can be applied if the reason is to better manage our natural resources. If the logic is solid, why would one city choose to continue with a recycling program while another city chooses to get rid of the same program?
Philadelphia has just renewed the “Philadelphia Recycling Rewards Program” which the city brags has helped it to increase residential recycling tonnage from about 75,000 tons in 2009 to 125,000 tons in 2014. And in that time the city says it saved about $9.2 million in cumulative avoided disposal costs and additional recycling revenue. The thing is, Ann Arbor, Michigan just cancelled the same rewards program because it didn’t see a significant increase in recycling. Although the potential impact to local landfills wasn’t reported in the Ann Arbor Chronicle, the paper did say the cost of continuing the residential program this year would be $103,500. And that, “the cost of canceling is $107,200 – $90,000 in an equipment purchase settlement in accordance with terms of the contract and $17,200 for 60 days of contractual notice. Savings will be realized in subsequent years.”
And it’s not just you, me and our neighbors. Results can also vary widely when it comes to construction and demolition recycling. In California landfills, about 11.6 percent of solid waste is material from construction and demolition, more than 4 million tons. But in a number of other states, we’re seeing numbers in the 30 percent range. C&D wastes are one of the largest waste streams in the nation, it usually costs less to recycle job site waste than it does to throw them away and almost all job site waste is recyclable.
While some argue that recycling is always good, I wonder how well the facts bear this out and whether the time is ripe for us to develop some standard measurements and rules and benchmarks that allow us to assess its true costs and benefits.
Then asking the question, “What is recycling?” won’t be as daunting as asking the question, “What is zero waste?” And the answer to that might be found in the pages of this month’s issue.
Coming to my job with perspectives not grounded with some of the assumptions that have brought MSW management to where it stands today, I find it difficult to determine just where recycling fits into the needs of our society or the environment, and I need your thoughts and experience, in order to meet your needs.
And the winners are…
One final note, we’re pleased to announce the winners of SWANA’s 2014 Faculty Awards
MATT COTTON: COMMITMENT TO FACULTY SERVICE AWARD
This award recognizes the faculty member who has gone above and beyond to assist SWANA training in 2014. The award goes to the person who has actively contributed to course updates, exam updates, facilitated live training, and volunteered as a subject matter expert when needed throughout the year.
WILLIAM TETER: TENURED FACULTY AWARD
Each year SWANA shows appreciation to the SWANA faculty member with the longest tenure who has not yet been recognized. This year’s recipient has been an active faculty member since 1995 (19 years!).
JOE WILLIAMS: MOST CERTIFICATIONS BY A FACULTY MEMBER AWARD
Each year SWANA recognizes the faculty member who has completed and maintained the most certifications. This year’s recipient has been an active faculty member for 15 years and is certified in 5 of the 9 disciplines. Joe currently holds certifications in the following disciplines: Collection Systems, Integrated Solid Waste Management, Recycling Systems, Transfer Station Systems, and MSW Management Systems.
Congratulations to Matt, William and Joe.