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Trash Talk

Updated: Jan 16, 2023


Hiking trail in Bariloche, Argentina

I've been thinking a lot about trash lately. First there was this revelation: wet cardboard and paper cannot be recycled. Wait, what?! Since I came across this mentioned in a Grid magazine editorial, and since I have faith in their reporting, (I am an occasional contributor) I had some reassessing to do. I’d previously considered myself a model of good waste management; at least that's what I've told my family. But I've been doing it wrong—for years. I didn't want to accept this, but I found multiple sources confirming my recycling failures.



The facts are these: wet cardboard and paper cannot be properly separated during the sorting process, and therefore, gets dumped in with trash. I think I actually did know this at one point in my life, but when a friend I’d always considered conscientious told me it didn't matter and pointed out that the recycling process involves water, I changed my routine. Now I know better. It does matter.


We don't ask you to clean, we just ask you not to dirty.

Another reason I've been thinking about trash is that I keep stumbling over it during my local rambles through the woods. It’s particularly glaring now because I'm recently home from a trip to Argentina, where we encountered a different attitude. In Bariloche, Argentina, the northern part of Patagonia, we hiked one pristine trail after another. It turns out that Patagonia, a large mountainous region extending through southern Argentina and Chile, has been protected and nurtured by environmentalists. Despite what one might see in the cities, folks visiting the wilderness areas pack their trash out. We found many fellow hikers, but no garbage.



I don't recall the last time I walked anywhere in the US where I didn't feel the need to pick up litter. Even in our national parks, the bins overflow and the garbage nestles in among trail-side flowers. Why? People say our parks are "over-loved." In my book love does not equal litter. However, the parks are used extensively and visitors’ trash overwhelms the system.


It's not all bad news in the US. The Zero Waste movement has been gaining some traction here. One stellar example is the Subaru auto manufacturing plant in Lafayette, Indiana. With encouragement from its Japanese parent company, Fuji Heavy Industries, they have been operating at zero waste for years.

“Subaru Indiana met its five-year goal within two years — and became the first U.S. auto plant to achieve zero-landfill status. “We have sent nothing to a landfill since May 4, 2004,” says senior executive vice president Tom Easterday. “I like to tell people if they go to Starbucks for a cup of coffee, once they throw away that cup, they’ve put more into a landfill than we have in the last 13 years.””

Subaru of Indiana and other plants like it have shared their strategies, and its beginning to catch on. So could we be more like Subaru in our own homes? Everywhere we turn, we're surrounded by products that will end up in the waste stream. We're often told to pack reusable shopping bags and carry refillable water bottles, but sometimes we forget. Sometimes it's hard to avoid the proffered plastic bottle a well-meaning friend tries to hand you in a moment of need. We might tell ourselves it will be recycled, but will it really? According to Grid, in recent years Philadelphia’s recycling rate has dropped to 8% after hitting a high of 21% under a previous administration.


On the individual level, we can make a difference if we get the single-use plastics out of our lives. When someone offers you that plastic bottle of water, show them your refillable water bottle. Don't leave the house without it! Also, consider storing a cloth shopping bag in your handbag, work kit, or car.



Tamela Trussell of Move Past Plastic recommends that people can begin by taking note of the amount of plastic in their grocery carts, and then try and eliminate one item per week. "Think about purchasing natural clothing, buy in bulk, don't buy individually wrapped items like yogurt, fruit, or Lunchables. Reuse glass jars for food storage, and make your own yogurt," she said. You can find more suggestions at the link below.


Finally, if you reside in a city like Philadelphia that needs to improve its recycling record, put pressure on your local government. Like most things, a sustainable waste process comes down to good management.


And going forward I will keep my cardboard boxes out of the rain, and I will be mindful of the plastics in my grocery cart. What do you do at your home to manage your trash? Please feel free to pass along your tips!

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8 Comments


Guest
Jan 17, 2023

PS - wet cardboard disintegrates pretty well, as will paper. Unlike plastic

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Guest
Jan 18, 2023
Replying to

Or you could wait until it is dry to put it in the recycle bin

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Guest
Jan 17, 2023

I have done inspections of recycling facilities, dumps and transfer centers. I have also done inspections of milk plants where they make the plastic bottles that they put milk in. They recycle the imperfect bottles - chip them up and put the chips back with the raw material.


When I get something in a cardboard box, I either keep it to mail stuff in, or Bob breaks it down and puts it in the cardboard recycle bin at the dump. Except pizza boxes with food on them. I have a stash of boxes and peanuts etc. to mail things in - I do a lot of mailing in an effort to divest myself of stuff. I give all useable clothi…


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dkane0819
dkane0819
Jan 17, 2023
Replying to

It sounds like you have found a solution that works for you, and if you're reusing them, then they're not single-use plastics. I used to do this to, but I think the problem is, especially when it's hot, that the plastic leaches into the water. But it looks like all of us have been absorbing plastic toxins for quite some time...

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Guest
Jan 16, 2023

I recycle all bottles and cardboard and newspapers. Manyvtines tge pastiche bottles I use at work I bring home to recycle. ( not always.)

My company uses products that have a lot of cardboard. Despite me saying something about it, it all goes into tge large dumpster. I will try to mention it again to my boss when I see him....when he returns ( Jamaica and California trip.

Litter us a big problem here in tge USA. Tgere are many people that do not care, and will dump their trash and mattresses along railroad tracks. 2-3times a year I pick up the trash along the tracks behind my house. Usually it us a bag full.

We need to get into…

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dkane0819
dkane0819
Jan 16, 2023
Replying to

It is overwhelming. I don't know what folks are thinking when they throw trash on the ground, but sometimes picking up someone else's trash does make me feel a little better. I've staked out one popular party area in our local woodland and try to pick up there on a regular basis. It only changes that one little bit, but at least that's something.

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