One Man's Trash Can Be OUR Treasure
“Recycling as we know it is broken but we can fix it, we are fixing it”
Just the other day, I got some ED-ucation, from none other than Ed, the owner-operator, C.E.O., Commander-in-Chief, and worker-bee of the “Resource Recovery Project” which seeks to fix the flaws and address the gaps in traditional recycling. My wife and I have been project members for several months now and when Ed offered me the opportunity to audit and observe the process – well, I couldn’t help but dive in.
I met Ed at his home, where he had returned from retrieving the “Big Green Bags” (or “BGBs” as we call them) from various project member households. All “recoverable resources” as he refers to them; the rest of us likely call them recyclables, are accepted. The one condition: “they must be CLEAN and DRY.” We will understand more about the importance of that later in the article. I asked Ed why he began this endeavor and what he hopes to do with it. “Recycling as we know it is broken but we can fix it, we are fixing it” he told me.
Through his personal experiences and visits with several waste management companies, internet searching, documentaries, and discussions with people – Ed realized a truth very little of us know – that few of our recyclables placed out weekly for standard waste haulers are ever actually recycled. Often, they are jammed into shipping containers and sold to the highest bidder, who likely is overseas in a developing country. We forget that our capitalistic empire is based on economic incentives and when our local waste management companies do not have the capacity, time, personnel, or margins to profit off repurposing recyclables, a bulk of it will be shipped elsewhere.
So, like any good citizen with drive and grit, Ed took it upon himself to determine why these valuable items had no value to traditional corporate waste managers. “They don’t have the staff or the machinery to differentiate between types, sizes, or mixed materials,” Ed told me while he was carefully segregating items by those little numbers surrounded by the directional triangles. “You throw away your leftover containers with food or plastic wrapped around paper - it’s just going to the landfill.” I asked Ed why his service is better than my existing recycling provider. “I ensure each resource gets to where it can be recovered,” he informed me as he grabs ferrous metal products with a small magnet. “Sorted metals are more easily recovered than non-sorted” (again – Ed-ucation there). I noticed an odd pile off to one side that looked like USB’s, metal wire, and various cables. I asked Ed why those were in their own pile. “Tanglers” he informed me. Tanglers are how the waste company refers to them as they will tangle up machinery. “Those won’t be recycled, they just trash ‘em,” Ed let me know. He also let me know that he groups the “tanglers” by those that scrap metal will take or ones that need to go to a reputable “E-waste” vendor. It began to dawn on me what a service this is. He’s doing what I had thought I was paying my trash company to do!
You see, Ed takes all clean and dry material and then spends hours painstakingly separating, sorting, and segregating material into specific piles for precise locations where he knows these products can be reused, rehomed, or recycled. Hence clean and dry – dirty and wet resources generally end up in the landfill! This makes sense to me, even without an economics degree. I can understand why being a member of the Resource Recovery Project is worth paying for – and why I’ve been fooled by my garbage company. I watched him as he pulled apart caps from bottles, clear container tops from colored ones, and got yet another piece of ED-ucation: “Rubbermaid will take back ALL food storage – whether it's theirs or not. Solo Cups takes back all rigid plastic cups with resin code#6,” Ed let me know as he was separating out those glistening red holders of American lager.
As I watched Ed do his work, I began to slowly realize that he’s right. He’s certainly onto something with this service. We all want to know we are doing our part to be better enviro-citizens. We think when we pay someone to pick up our trash and recycle it, that it truly is being done. But have we ever gone to the waste company and asked? Have we read the mountain of news reports to the contrary? Do we know in fact whether these large multinational conglomerates aren’t sending our waste overseas? Do we know who is purchasing our recoverable resources we put into our weekly bins?
"I’m proud to be a member of this project"
Being a member of the Resource Recovery Project has changed me and this visit to observe the operation was certainly ED-ucational. I saw who takes care of my recoverable resources, I observed the care put into their separation, and I witnessed them going to their next home for their next life. As mentioned before, Ed is onto something and I’m proud to be a member of this project. Maybe we all should begin taking little steps to change our local community as this man has done. We might just be able to save ourselves after all.