Another Way to Reduce in 2018
By Michael McAllister
According to the research firm Statistic Brain, losing weight, combined with healthier eating, was the most popular New Year’s resolution as 2017 dawned, and it is likely to be high on the list when statistics for 2018 are compiled.
But, in addition to weight loss, another kind of reduction is important, especially to residents of Grinnell: Waste—the kind that you set out in the tagged or yellow bags once per week, and the kind that goes into the red recycling bins.
Of course, we don’t think of recyclables as waste. We take a rosy view of recyclables and may even feel good about being such responsible consumers. But if we focus too much on recycling, we are missing a much more significant step to improve our environment, the simple act of reducing what we consume so that we have less to throw away either as garbage or as recyclables.
Recycling is a good thing in that it does keep some material out of landfills and it does reduce a municipality’s landfill fees, but it may not be as beneficial as we have come to believe. On a national level, several ideas have taken root that yield a not-so-flattering picture of recycling—that more energy is spent collecting and processing recyclables than is recouped, for example, and that most so-called recyclables wind up in landfills as garbage. While these and other ideas have been debunked by publications such as Popular Mechanics and Mother Jones, it is clear that recycling, while it is better than doing nothing, should not be thought of as a panacea.
Closer to home, City Manager Russ Behrens (above) states that, in Grinnell, recycling is “a great step to take,” but it is only “a small step.”
“Reducing what we consume,” he continues, “is really where we’re going to make great strides. If people really want to do the best they can for the environment and for the city, reducing what [they] consume is going to make a much bigger impact” than recycling.
The city manager does not mean reduction to the point of deprivation. Small changes can cause big consequences. “Even a five percent reduction is a big deal,” Behrens encourages.
The City of Grinnell makes it easy to recycle by providing bins for residential customers and dumpsters for some apartment residences and commercial enterprises. The single-stream method is an extra inducement. Items as diverse as paper, magazines, cans, aluminum, foil, glass, and cardboard can be tossed into the red bin and set to within four feet of the curb. Later in the day, the red bin can be retrieved and returned to its usual spot in the residence. Dumpster recycling is even easier.
What happens to the recyclables?
Grinnell once practiced curbside sorting, but that method became too labor intensive and costly. Currently, Grinnell sends recyclables to Midwest Sanitation and Recycling in Oskaloosa, where materials are sorted, baled, and sold. However, “the market for recyclables right now is very low,” Behrens states, and he does not foresee any change anytime soon. (The market for cardboard is slightly better—Behrens calls it “decent”—so the city does sell that item separately in some cases.)
According to a December 1, 2017, draft memorandum by Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC, of Johnston, Iowa, Grinnell’s waste management workers make 2,877 stops per week to pick up red-bin content and send it on its way to Oskaloosa and beyond.
The City of Grinnell has engaged Foth to assess the city’s range of sanitation services. A conversion to an automated side-loading system (ASL) is under serious consideration. Part of the new system, should it be adopted, might include picking up recyclables every other week (EOW) instead of weekly.
But in the meantime—and beyond—anything that Grinnellians can do to reduce both yellow-bag and red-bin material will benefit everyone, including our friend Mother Earth.
Reducing waste may seem a gargantuan task, but anyone can take a few simple steps and make a difference.
- Buy items with less packaging, and write to companies via their websites and request less packaging when appropriate.
- Curb junk mail. If you receive catalogs that you do not want, email the companies and let them know. Most retailers these days maintain an online presence.
- Take your own bags—paper, plastic, or otherwise—to the supermarket.
- Check with the Federal Trade Commission for ways to remove your name from mailing lists. Go to consumer.ftc.gov. Unfortunately, there is no Do Not Mail list as there is a Do Not Call list, but the FTC provides ways of reducing “the number of unsolicited mailings, calls, and emails you receive by learning where to go to ‘just say no.’”
- Do some research online. Dozens of websites suggest ways of reducing waste and recyclables.
- Instead of thinking Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, think “Reuse, Recycle, and Reduce, Reduce, Reduce!
Because reducing consumption and therefore waste is such a worthwhile goal, it ought to become a solid New Year’s resolution that is not abandoned, as many resolutions are, before the end of January, but one that moves into the realm of habit. Reducing the weight that we carry around each day can be difficult, even discouraging, but reducing the weight that we carry to the curb on garbage day—whether in bags or bins—is something we all can do, no matter what we’ve eaten.