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Expect recycling fees to increase while services decrease if your community does not have a recycling transparency ordinance. I blame single-stream for the increased cost to customers. Single-stream is the collection method in which recyclables are treated like garbage with plastic, metals, paper, etc., being dumped together in a single compartment truck, creating an inseparable mess.

Single-stream was instituted by major garbage-hauling companies as their attempt to regain market share lost to transparent volunteer-run recycling programs in the 1980s. Instead of being landfilled, the segregated glass, paper, metals, etc., collected by volunteers were made into new products and re-entered the marketplace.

Nowadays, with single-stream programs run by private garbage-hauling companies, do you really know what happens to your recyclables?

Want to witness what is being dumped from a single-stream recycling truck? Good luck entering the recycling facility unannounced. Along with single-stream came the elimination of transparency and citizen knowledge regarding the recycling process. Where once we volunteers handled the recyclables and dealt directly with the companies buying our materials, citizens no longer think about their recyclables once set on the curb. Used to, volunteers knew firsthand why items needed to be separated and clean, and we cared about worker safety as much as revenue.

Until recently, citizens weren't even aware that single-stream often resulted in shipping trashed recycling to countries lacking worker safety and environmental laws. But now we do know, and we also know our domestic and international waterways are polluted with endocrine-disrupting plastic debris and that microscopic plastic is even in the air. President Harry Truman once was reported to have said, "Give Americans the facts and they'll do the right thing." Given honest information, I believe U.S. citizens will put the health of people and the planet above convenience.

It's going to take all of us--citizens, elected officials, and corporations--to restore our planet to a healthy state. While product redesign and legislation will help, we must also recreate a society that thinks beyond convenience. We can start by making a commitment to find one new way every week to reduce the volume of waste generated in the places where we work, worship, sleep, play and study. Besides reducing and reusing, we must make recycling programs transparent by passing transparency ordinances. Single-stream would never have taken hold had such laws been in place.

We need more citizen/government partnerships as exemplified in Madison County. The government-owned dropoff in Huntsville is transparent with citizens sorting their own recyclables. The center has always only taken items for which it has secure domestic markets. It accepts about 50 different things including batteries, light bulbs, cooking oil, sorted white paper, glass, etc., and has a terrific reuse section where you can purchase clothes, paint, books, household goods, and more.

A culture in which people used to burn their trash has changed to one that now hauls, sorts, and shares their discards.

Every town in Arkansas should involve multiple generations to help design, build, and maintain a park-like, artistic, educational dropoff. If citizens are involved in the process, they will become your best advocates for reduction, reuse, and clean recycling. An attractive dropoff center will generate pride in the community while reducing litter and illegal dumping. Bella Vista AARP runs a unique recycling dropoff center, rewarding volunteer groups with grant dollars for helping maintain the facility.

We can begin with little things--skip the straw when eating out, and carry our own reusable shopping bags. The trick here is to hang the emptied bags on the door you use to exit your home, then put the bags on the front seat of your car so you'll see them and remember to carry them in to the store. I have a friend who unwraps products at the store while telling the clerk, "All I want is the product; you may keep the packaging."

We can choose to give our business to those companies that walk the talk in terms of taking care of Planet Earth. I do not shop with a certain retailer that distributes millions of plastic bags worldwide every hour of every day. Instead I shop at a store where I take my own bag. We can buy less and discover that our homes and lives are less cluttered. We owe it to future generations to restore the environmental health of our Earth home.


Retired waste reduction educator Louise "Louie" Mann currently lives in Northwest Arkansas. A former public school teacher, she ran an educational, park-like, family-friendly dropoff center back in the last century.

Editorial on 06/08/2019

Print Headline: Being dirty costs

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