In recent months something new has been appearing on curbsides across St. Louis, and the changes give insight into larger trends across the country. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that large, 64-gallon bins are being deployed in a number of communities in the metro area in a single-stream recycling campaign that aims to improve recovery rates. However, some critics are bristling.
The big bins arrive at doorsteps with instructions to toss everything recyclable in there together, from plastics to paper and metal. There's no question that the change is getting dramatic results. In Northwoods, the average monthly recycling rate per person has jumped to seven pounds in the year since the bins were deployed up from an average of less than a pound.
In Olivette, the average monthly rate jumped to 19 pounds per person from 11 pounds per person after 64-gallon bins replaced the previous 18-gallon jobs.
The large bins are pretty pricey, clocking in at about $45 each wholesale. The switch, of course, also requires additional training of waste management workers and possibly new equipment and hires, something that doesn't come free. American consumers, never quick to catch on to recycling, have to go through a period of adjustment and re-education to make sure things get handled properly.
In St. Louis, some families have already asked to opt out of recycling, versus wanting to pay any fees associated with it. That's understandable in a time of economic downturn, but it still needs to be pointed out that recycling provides tremendous long-term goods to many, including creating jobs, saving landfill space and slashing our expenditures of energy, water and materials. Recycling is taking a strong step to preserving long-term economic and environmental health and security, especially for our children.
Do you really want to tell your children or grandchildren that the reason they can't visit Disney World is because sea level rise has devastated Florida, and by not doing your part in paying pennies a month to recycle you contributed to more greenhouse gases? Anyway, stepping off the soapbox
One of the biggest complaints experts have about single-stream recycling is that it renders too much collected material of substandard quality. Broken fragments of other items lodge into containers, making recovery and processing harder.
It's unclear whether the best approach to increasing recycling is more education, access and lower cost, or more single-stream solutions. If people could get it together we wouldn't need to have the single-stream debate.
I personally am on my third or fourth recycling bin in three years, on account of thieves in my neighborhood. (Though I do wonder what they do with the blue bins, especially since they are heavily labeled with my address in permanent marker). Luckily they only cost me $5 a pop (though the hours of pickup are very limited) I shudder to think if they ran more than $45. Even so, I'd replace them each time anyway, because the benefits of recycling are hard to overstate.
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