Guest column: Recyclables are valuable commodities

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 7, 2003

We should not consider materials collected for recycling as waste or garbage. They are valuable commodities that contribute significantly to our growing economy. Instead of burying our garbage, recycling adds value to materials collected, and contributes to a growing labor force. Many of the jobs in the recycling industry pay above-average wages and require specialized skills or education.

In the year 2000, our recycling efforts in Minnesota saved 13,496,457 trees. The total impact of recycling on other industries such as office supply companies or accounting firms adds to the total effect of 1.4 million jobs that are directly or indirectly supported by the recycling and reuse industry. These jobs have a payroll of $52 billion and produce $173 billion in receipts. Given the poor markets and lack of steady markets, these are astounding figures. Benefits to the government amounted to millions of dollars in taxes paid on the federal, state, and local levels. While some people argue the benefits of recycling, I don’t have to look very far to find good arguments supporting recycling.

Now that I have identified a few benefits of recycling, and most of you already do a great job, let’s look at some ways we can increase what we recycle. Preaching to the saved will not encourage your neighbor or relative to start. Peer pressure and financial incentives don’t always work for everyone.

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There is no question that the cost of disposing of solid waste (garbage) is going to increase in the future. The cost of operating landfills and incinerators goes up every year. A man from New Hampshire stopped by my office the other day and told me the disposal fee at his local landfill was $100 per ton. That’s more than twice what we pay in this area. There are places in the nation where disposal costs are less, but the future cleanup costs of poorly managed disposal facilities can be astronomical. Better to pay for the &uot;true&uot; cost of waste disposal up front than deal with it years later.

There have been many people who express their desire to see a mass burn facility in Freeborn County. Unfortunately, burning garbage has problems the average person does not see. One is air pollution. The garbage burners run at a temperature of about 5,000 degrees (a backyard burn barrel is about 1,800). This high temperature is needed in order to reduce pollution going out the smoke stack. A 24-7 supply of garbage is needed to keep the fire going and our multi-county area just does not generate enough trash. Also, there are no laws that would require a garbage hauler to bring all his trash to an incinerator, so expensive supplemental fuels may be required.

But it isn’t just the cost of burying garbage or burning it. (Burning costs about 40 percent more than landfilling.) Not everyone recognizes the value of recycling and it may appear to be more work. Not so. By the time I purchase garbage bags, put filled bags into the trash container and take it to the curb I have worked just as hard to get rid of garbage as I would a recycling container. Only my recycling weighs less. I can also recycle more items without worrying about an extra charge on my bill or the neighbors dog will get into it. If the contents are properly rinsed, it’s highly unlikely any animal would bother the can.

Can we use peer pressure on our neighbors? Why not? A positive comment about how much money that neighbor or friend could be saving might be all it takes. An offer to allow a neighbor the use of your recycling can on a limited basis will wet their appetite for waste reduction.

Come visit our booth at the Home and Recreational Show March 14, 15 and 16.

Randy Tuchtenhagen is Freeborn County’s solid waste officer. His column appears monthly.