Mayor on Duty

We have a growing problem in this country with recycling. The Chinese have stopped taking American recycle materials, aka garbage. I have recently read articles in the New York Times, VOX, The Asheville Citizens Times and the National League of Municipalities Newsletter about the problem. 

Several hundred municipalities have stopped, or suspended, recycling programs. Some communities like Philadelphia now burn recycle materials as means of generating electricity.  But, that option is a tradeoff of one problem for another with incarnation increasing CO2 and dioxin levels in the atmosphere.

In the past, China had taken recycle materials like plastic and used them in small factories to create inexpensive, exportable products. Now the Chinese government is concerned about resulting pollution and environmental hazards. China also wants to move toward high tech production and jobs instead of low end, “dirty jobs.”

China discovered that much of the American recycle shipments had contaminates that made the materials unusable garbage. A recent article in the Asheville Citizens Times pointed out the city’s recycle initiatives were being undercut by folks throwing in nonrecyclable materials in their recycle bins. 

The new move to single stream recycle system really aggravates the contamination problem.  The single stream system may encourage more people to recycle, but a person or system has to be in place to sort the materials. That system, whether human or automated increase costs of recycling.

The energy and materials used to recycle, for instance fuel and water, add to recycling costs, and in many cases increases the carbon footprint of recycling more than the production of new products from raw materials.

Some materials like cardboard and aluminum cans still provide benefits for a recycling program.  Plastics and glass are very questionable.

Last year, in cooperation with the county, the town created a small recycling center at the Highlands Recreation Department. It has been very popular and successful. 

The county continues to recycle primarily because it keeps these materials out of the landfill.  But it costs the county to recycle, it is does not miraculously pay for itself. I believe these recycling efforts will continue as long as the county can find companies that will take recycle materials.

Recycling some materials can be sustainable, especially if fees are charged. For instance, asphalt roof shingles can be recycled. Putting tons of old shingles in landfills is not good. Charging  a fee to recycle them is viable. Old nylon carpet that can be recycled the same way. Fees for recycling other materials like glass bottles might be forthcoming.

The best solution to this growing-recycle problem is to reduce the amount of recycled materials, especially plastic which has an indefinite lifecycle.  Cellulose and metal-based products can be degraded in a rather short time.  Ironically, recycling programs may have lulled many folks into thinking our “throw away,’’ disposable system is really not a problem.  Should we continue on the delusional path of voracious consumption so long as we recycle? Or, should everyone examine their personal habits and embrace ways to reduce the need to recycle?

  • Town of Highlands Mayor Pat Taylor


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