Thursday, May 24, 2012
Walla Wallans will soon be faced with a new eco-challenge when the city stops accepting glass in its recycle bins later this summer and when Walla Walla Recycling stops taking glass at its facility as of June 2.
The truth is glass is not "recycled" in this community anyway. Rather it's been staged and "upcycled" for use in road construction but the expense of transport and maintenance of machinery used to convert glass for this purpose is now cost prohibitive. It's a real dilemma and one that sustainability partners in our county have been trying to sort out for well over a year to no avail.
Glass is primarily composed of silica -- the same material as sand -- and doesn't break down even under the harshest environments. Given the relatively inert conditions of a landfill, glass left in dumps will simply just stay there. The cost of "disposing" remains high, however, and when you think of the economics of trash removal for waste that can't be composted, recycled or upcycled it's frustrating to see our resources and dollars go toward "pay to throw away" programs.
Glass is troublesome, but plastic is even more so. Why? Because there is so much of it in our landfills and there's simply no good excuse for that. Plastic accounts for 16 percent of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. and 50 percent to 80 percent of the waste littering beaches, oceans and seabeds.
There is a viable post-use market for plastics (and paper for that matter). You can recycle all your household and food plastic waste. Better, you can stop consuming plastic waste.
As for the glass dilemma, it's not good news, but at least glass does not leach impurities and toxins into the Earth. Perhaps in the future our culture will come to see the value in what we have and stop living a disposable life.
Europeans sterilize and reuse wine bottles -- on average of 15 times. Hopefully, consumers will soon have better options for products packaged in glass or otherwise.
Innovation in product design that has end use factored in will help accelerate alternatives but only if there is market demand.
In the meantime, take a good look at what you are throwing out in your household, school and workplace. And pick up a copy of "Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Ed Humes" for a very good read on this topic.