Recycling: First Step in Rethinking Sustainability

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), November 19, 2002 | Go to article overview

Recycling: First Step in Rethinking Sustainability


Byline: JULIE DANIEL and LANCE ROBERTSON For The Register-Guard

IMAGINE AN ELECTION in which more than 90 percent of the population voted. Now imagine that all those voters actually agreed on the issue they were voting for. Impossible? Not in Lane County. Every week, nine of every 10 households "vote" for recycling by separating plastic, paper, cardboard and cans from their trash. Recycling has become our most popular civic activity, transcending gender, age and income levels, political ideologies or religious beliefs. A countywide system of recycling depots, urban drop sites and curbside pickup service in every community with more than 4,000 residents has made the chore of recycling easy and convenient.

So we do it - to the tune of 3.66 pounds daily for every Lane County resident.

This is a remarkable success story: Once thought of as an activity for environmental utopians and zealots, recycling now is as mainstream as brushing your teeth or watching television. It is ingrained on our collective consciousness. So accustomed are we to recycling that we gasp in horror when out-of-town friends or family casually toss a can in the trash. Even more remarkable is how far we've come.

Thirty years ago, the only recyclers were scrap metal dealers and conservation-driven nonprofit organizations like BRING that operated with missionary zeal. Today there are dozens of businesses in Lane County that collect, process or manufacture a product using recycled materials. Many equipment dealers, trucking companies and other businesses benefit from the recycling industry. Utilizing waste has become a significant economic driver, one that is a cornerstone of the sustainable environment and economy we strive for.

Earlier this month, Oregonians observed Recycling Awareness Week, which gave us a convenient excuse to reflect. What part does recycling play in a sustainable society? What can we be proud of? What still needs to be done? We can take pride in having made significant progress in utilizing discards. In 1971, the first year BRING operated, 450 tons of material were collected. In 2000, Lane County recyclers collected 216,532 tons.

Ordinary citizens understand that recycling saves energy and natural resources. For example, the 24,622 tons of corrugated cardboard and 11,579 tons of newspapers recycled in 2000 saved enough energy to power 8,812 average households for a year!

We can feel good that recycling has become a significant factor in our local economy. Sorting and processing recyclable materials supports 10 times the number of jobs that landfilling does. …

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Recycling: First Step in Rethinking Sustainability
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