Figures for last year regarding success rates for recycling are being released. Boston came in low, with only about 19% of household waste being recycled rather than “garbaged.” Seattle and San Jose both reported a recycling rate of about 60%, and San Francisco reported about 55%. (David Abel, Boston Globe, 6/19/12)
Norwood Recycling Coordinator Doris Burtman quoted an estimate that about 30% of Norwood’s household waste was recycled last year. We can only preen for a moment about achieving a higher rate than Boston, because we obviously have room for improvement.
And while we undertake to increase our recycling rate, let’s also consider the tonnage of household waste needing any kind of disposition. Recycling more while trashing less is admirable, but is only part of the picture. We now must look to controlling our consumer habits so there is less waste to begin with.
Recently, one of the Together Yes directors, Vic Babel, told me that he was gratified to see that many of us now recycle more than we trash. He also indicated a concern that we have a high volume of waste to be disposed of in either manner. Vic has a way of seeing the big picture.
More trashing and recycling means we have spent more money, not just on the processing of our waste, but on buying things that need disposal. We still buy more than we need, and we still pay extra to have it over-packaged. The effects of manufacturing what we buy, along with the use of fossil fuels (and accompanying pollution) to ship it to us, are profound for Earth’s atmosphere and seas. As long as we are throwing away more than many countries in the world have to start with, we are among the “bad guys.”
A slogan being used these days is REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE. Note that first comes reducing our purchase of things. Then we need to reuse what we can, rather than buying new. The last step is to recycle what we are able. Frugality amounts to a lot more than just staying within our personal budgets (though there’s every indication we’re not accomplishing that with any reliability).
Frugality does not just mean dollars, either. It speaks to living within Earth’s means. Wasting natural resources (while increasing global warming), deforestation, degradation of the soil and oceans, and uneven distribution of basic necessities—these require the application of frugality. So let’s increase our recycling rate, and let’s work to severely reduce the actual tonnage of all waste. Then, we will be appropriately frugal. Then, we might think of ourselves as good guys.
Lifestyle changes, firm and permanent are in order. I’m not looking forward to it. But more pressing in my mind is taking responsibility for our impact on the rest of the world and on the very ecosystem that makes life on Earth possible.