Everyone, everywhere, all the time – that was the recycling message recently delivered to nearly 30,000 mailboxes in Blair County. Yet nearly half the people that received the Recycle newsletter don't recycle anything. Most of the businesses in the recycling communities recycle only their corrugated cardboard, but none of the other half dozen items they should. About a third of the businesses don't even recycle their cardboard.
Though the amount we recycle has trended ever so slightly upward in the last ten years, many communities' recycling totals have steadily climbed during that same time period. So our local curbside recycling program is actually doing worse in comparison to other Pennsylvania municipalities. The latest figures from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection puts us in the bottom twenty percent of mandated recycling communities, or twenty percentile lower than where we stood in 2005.
In a rather stark contrast, the yard waste composting performance is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Our yard waste totals place us among the top third of best performing programs in the state. Hollidaysburg Borough's performance is even better since they continue their yard trimming collection through the entire summer. Why does this contrast exist? Why does a very large portion of our yard waste go to the right place, while more than half our recycling still goes into the trash? Why do we find alarming amounts of recyclable containers littering our neighborhoods, downtowns, shopping plazas and along our highways? And why do we massive accumulations of trash and recyclables on hundreds of residential properties? While there may be no simple answers to these questions, we can look to three issues: clear rules that can be enforced, service convenience and consumer cost.
The yard waste rules are clear – it won't be collected if it isn't prepared. Leaves and grass must be in paper bags. With a handful of exceptions, yard trimmings never go in the trash. Yard waste collection is not only convenient but it's also affordable. Curbside collection, in fact, is free and is provided to everyone that sets out material in the participating municipalities. Recyclables, on the other hand, can go into the trash, often undetected. Fearing they'll alienate their customers if they raise a raucous about not recycling, haulers are usually (and understandably) hesitant to take action against violators. Consequently, unless the recycling or code enforcement offices identify someone that is not complying, it's difficult to change the behavior of the offending households or businesses.
It's also easy for homeowners and renters to stop paying for waste and recycling service. Consequently, it's likely that several thousand households do not have service during any given month. Trash piles up in the yard, on the porch, in the basement or is illegally burned or dumped somewhere. Recycling, needless to say, is ignored. Even when people have waste service, too many ignore their recycling responsibilities, complaining that it's a nuisance or that they don't feel like doing it. While landfills may not be as disgusting as trash dumps of thirty years ago, they still don't make very pleasant neighbors. And trashing recyclables is an incredible waste of energy and usable, valuable resources.
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