Confessions of a Reformed Recycler
By Robert Lovenheim
I grew up assuming everything in America was tossed in a trash barrel and after that, it was not my problem. I had vague notions of what happened once trash was picked up by the garbage truck; my hometown had an incinerator for a while, and then a dump. Nobody thought much about it.
About a year ago I started to think seriously about what happens to all the stuff I tossed in the garbage all my life. Why? It was one of those life revelations that you never think about until you think about it, like when it suddenly hits you that all those black circles you see on the sidewalk in big cities are gum. Yeach!
I was fortunate enough to tour a landfill in Pen Argyl. That tour was followed by a visit to a resource materials facility near Northampton, where recycled materials go to be sorted, bailed, and sold to someone to be melted down and reused.
The company I visited hauls a lot of the trash in Monroe County. After the tour, I started thinking about what happens to everything I had been tossing out all my life and realized I couldn’t treat it the same way anymore. If you see a landfill, you’ll realize there’s a limit to the places we can find to bury stuff; the landfill I visited is almost full.
How long can this go on? One day, we’re going to have shortages of raw materials. Every plastic egg carton, strawberry box, dish liquid bottle, and plastic bag we throw away is vanishing into the earth for eternity. Think of that the next time you lift the lid of your garbage container and throw something in. You are committing something valuable to eternal life at the bottom of billions of pounds of garbage. The simple act of throwing a plastic jar into the garbage rather than the recycling bin, even if you have to wash a little food out of it first, is your decision to bury it forever.
The recycling process is not exactly the saint to the garbage dump sinners, but more about that another time. If you want to see the video we made about this, check out the MRF Project in Smithfield Township.