In search of the truth, Special Agents William Neal and Patrick Cuccaro explore the mysterious Green world of sustainable special events and catering. What myths will they shatter? What will they uncover?
The Truth is out there…so we’re told.
Fresh off the heels of our three-part series titled “The Chef’s World View“, we’re taking a completely different direction. In this week’s episode, our investigators look at the state of affairs of recycling practices in the United States: The good, the bad and the ugly of American habits and the environmental price we pay.
WILLIAM: I remember, long ago, when I was just a child, going to the circus with my mom and dad. Back in the day before OSHA became involved. There were unbelievably crazy and often dangerous stunts executed by the circus performers—especially the clowns—who did nutty and treacherous tricks.
There was this one clown that I remember clearly. Let’s call him “bozo” for dramatic effect, okay? No, not the Bozo the Clown. THIS bozo’s claim to circus fame was to ride a unicycle in wild fashion. Every time he came out, the unicycle’s seat was higher and higher! He juggled; he threw knives; he tried to run over the other clowns…I was on the edge of my seat!
Eventually, as he was going around the ring faster and faster with the seat on its highest setting…BAM! He was down like a shot! Yes, he was a real “bozo”!
But, you know what they say…The show must go on! And it did. The poor guy was partially carried, partially dragged off into the back somewhere. I had no doubt he was hurt.
PATRICK: Why exactly are you telling me about this childhood trauma? We’re investigating sustainability. Has our blog’s theme changed without my knowledge, Agent Neal?
WILLIAM: Think about it…Americans are in many ways like the bozo on the unicycle; we keep going around and around, higher and higher, faster and faster making this recycling thing a part of our daily lives.
PATRICK: That’s a good thing, right? More and more Americans are thinking about their impact on the environment and more and more of us ARE recycling!
WILLIAM: Yes, spurred on by environmentalists and politicians with good intent, the American public is embracing recycling with a vengeance. Now those “little blue bins” are everywhere! And we keep them full, too!
PATRICK: I think I see where you’re headed with this…
WILLIAM: Why are those little blue bins so full?! Just like the clown…round and round we go! Consume, consume, consume!
PATRICK: Yes, Agent Neal. Single-stream recycling has caught on fire since folks could “feel good” about being Green…without a lot of effort, that is. We don’t have to sort our recycling.
Remember when we used to put everything in the trash and it “magically” disappeared—not realizing the landfill crisis we were creating? Today, we throw all of our recyclables into that little blue bin and, again, it all disappears. Then, rewarding us for our efforts, we see “made with 100% recycled materials” labels on everything! MAGIC!
But, what many of us are unaware of is that someone behind the scenes has to separate all the recyclables we’re tossing into that blue bin…and that costs money. And don’t even get me started on the contamination issues associated with single-stream recycling!
WILLIAM: Can you imagine if the recycling movement of the 90s had proclaimed multi-stream recycling as the only way to go? The general public may never have taken it on. No matter how sustainable many of us “want” to be, being required to sort paper, plastic, aluminum, etc., is a hassle. Most people avoid hassle!
PATRICK: That’s an unfortunate reality, Agent Neal.
Here’s something else I uncovered on the topic of nationwide municipal recycling programs and the ubiquitous blue box. What was once a profitable enterprise for municipalities around the country has now become a HUGE money-sucking albatross!
WILLIAM: How did THAT happen?
PATRICK: As eco-minded citizens have done such a good job of creating mountains of recyclates (yes, this is a word), processors can’t keep up.
Some municipalities now actually have to PAY to have these materials disposed of…Yes, that’s right…PAY to throw away!
WILLIAM: Totally tragic!
PATRICK: And then there’s the question of business profitability for the processors who take on the monumental task of dealing with single-stream recyclables…the task, and the cost, of separating all that material.
Now, this is a bit of a touchy area, but here goes…
Depending on who you speak with, the large recyclable processors either ARE or are NOT making a profit. There are just a few players, so they do the lion’s share of business. And here in Georgia, some of those processors are “importing” recyclables to produce their “environmentally friendly” products.
That begs the call-to-action for Georgians to recycle even more, and more responsibly, but that’s a topic for another investigation.
Honestly, the real question might be: What level of profit can ever be made…if we keep recycling so blindly? There’s so much more to this story!
Economic factors indicate that profitability from recycled products and materials ebbs and flows much in the same way that any commodity does. Much in the same way world markets and economies dictate use of any product, sometimes the business of turning recyclables into useable materials is good and sometimes not so good. The trend, of late, unfortunately is that it has been not so good.
WILLIAM: So, that leaves us Americans with a question; Are we riding the recycling unicycle with the seat too high?
In other words, as individuals, should we be more focused on NOT filling up those lovely blue bins? Are we supporting products made from recyclables first in our daily purchases? How can we get off the unicycle and become part of the recycling solution through less consumption?
PATRICK: Great cultural questions. Nobody wants to crash and burn!
To be continued…
If you make a conscious choice to purchase products made from recycled materials, please share with our other readers what you’ve found to be the method to make such purchasing the easiest? Do you read every label? Do you purchase only certain brands? What’s your best trick in purchasing to keep more out of the landfill? Please share your suggestions (and ask any questions) in the comments section below.
Join us again soon for another episode of The Green Files.
This week’s 3Rs…
REVEALED: American Recycling Has Stalled
REVERED: The Byzantine Empire
REVILED: Ocean Dumping