'Recycling is not garbage, it’s a commodity': What really happens to your recycling?
BY Julia Martin / northjersey.com
But in New Jersey, where recycling is the law, towns and residents are required to recycle. That’s a good thing environmentally, saving on natural resources and landfill space and reducing the costs of disposal, said Wayne DeFeo, a waste management and sustainability consultant.
And if recycling is "clean" — meaning not filled with non-recyclable items — towns get more for it, he said. Cardboard, paper, metals, glass and plastic are actually traded on the commodity markets. "Recycling is not garbage, it’s a commodity, and if it’s a clean commodity it has value," DeFeo said.
On the flip side, when non-recyclables end up at the sorting facility, they have to be pulled out and thrown away, "along with your money," he said. Trying to recycle the wrong items [...] is usually well-intentioned. DeFeo calls it "wish-cycling" — keeping items out of the trash in the hope they will get recycled. It doesn’t help that most towns do a "lousy" job educating residents about the rules, he said.
... "You would be amazed and disgusted" at the type and number of wrong items people toss in their bins, DeFeo said. People seem to think that just because there’s some plastic in an item — like a dirty diaper — it can be recycled, he said. He’s also seen guns, swords and boat anchors in recycling. "when in doubt, throw it out," he said.
Compared with other parts of the world, Americans are lazy, DeFeo said. In Japan, for instance, residents sort materials into 21 different bins, and scofflaws are scolded by the older generation. They are concerned about the lack of landfill space. Here, the attitude is, "Let someone else take care of it," he said. "They just want it to go to this magic place called 'away.'"
DeFeo said that the maxim "Reduce, reuse, recycle" should have a fourth imperative: "Refuse (to buy)," he said. Try to purchase only items you really need. "The best solution to our waste problem would be that everyone has to keep everything they purchase for a year in their house," he said. "It would be the best education program in the world."
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