Guest column: We must heed the call to recycle

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 14, 2003

At a recent visit to the garbage transfer station, I looked at the trash being dumped from the trucks coming in off their daily routes. It is amazing how much of the loads are corrugated cardboard and white paper. This is not a criticism of the haulers, but rather the population they serve. There is much we could be doing to improve recycling, both at home and at work. Our recycling company will accept almost any paper product except the plastic or wax coated bacon, frozen food or butter containers. Nearly every other kind of paper or cardboard is acceptable, including books with the covers left intact.

To focus on a small opportunity for everyone to consider, companies throughout the nation mail nearly 17 billion catalogs to U.S. consumers or about 59 catalogs for every man, woman and child. According to a survey released last fall, few of these companies use recycled content paper in the catalogs, a problem for landfills and forests. Many of these companies when surveyed said they didn’t use recycled content paper because they didn’t think it mattered to their customers. Others surveyed claimed that recycled content cost more. Both of these excuses are incorrect and inexcusable.

Of 42 major catalog companies, only six use significant amounts of recycled paper in the 74 catalogs they produce, and most don’t use any according to the survey. With recycling prices at some of the lowest levels in seven years, cost is not an excuse anymore. Some who use exclusively virgin paper include Sears, J. Crew, Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean. L. L. Bean even has a quote on the company Web site that states to consumers that they use &uot;the best environmental practices within our industry.&uot; I guess that doesn’t mean recycled content.

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Retailers are not the only entities adding to the nation’s unrecycled paper glut. Many environmental groups have come under fire for direct-mail fund-raising. Check the junk mail you receive with your credit card bills, utility bills and other legitimate mail you receive and see if you can find a logo or small imprint stating the recycled content of the material. Most of it is virgin paper and we didn’t ask for it to be sent to us, and hopefully most of us are putting it in the recycle bin instead of throwing them into the garbage can. I think you can begin to see the huge volume of paper I observed from the garbage trucks.

One good announcement came recently when Staples announced that it will phase out paper goods made from threatened forests and increase the amount of recycled material in its paper products from 10 to 30 percent. Catalogs mailed or handed out to consumers are one of the fastest-growing sources of paper consumption in the nation today.

If every company switched their catalogs to recycled content instead of virgin paper content, the savings in wood could create a six foot fence that would stretch across the country seven times.

How can we do something to make a difference? Pay attention to the people trying to do business with you. Are they acting in an environmental responsible manner and using environmentally friendly material? When we are doing a good job recycling, shouldn’t someone on the other end have a responsibility to reuse that material? Recycled paper is already white and will not have to have bleach added like the brown virgin pulp from fresh cut trees. Through purchasing power, consumers can be vocal and make industry listen.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is head of the Freeborn County Environmental Services department.