Do you have blue barrel anxiety?

‘m suffering from “Blue Barrel Anxiety,” and so are a lot of other people around the country. What is BBA you ask? Think of it like this. You are cleaning up after a family picnic, the table is covered with paper plates, an empty pickle jar, a plastic mustard container and lots of other things made from plastic and paper…lots of other things. If you have ever wondered, does this go in the trash or recycle bin, then you have experienced what millions of us have, the dreaded BBA, “Blue Barrel Anxiety.”

I was suffering so badly from BBA that I didn’t know what to toss into my blue bin…Blue Barrrel AnxietyI’d even gotten a letter from my trash collection company warning me that I was about to lose my Blue Barrel privileges. Don’t be disheartened, I’ve discovered the cure for BBA. It turns out that by educating oneself, BBA can be reduced and more importantly for me, no more letters.

I set up a tour to my local recycling center. WARNING and DISCLAIMER: Prepare yourself, seeing firsthand what becomes of the things you put into your recycle bin may shock you. Perhaps you might consider taking a friend or the entire family for moral support. You’re going to need it.

How did my tour go? Well it wasn’t what I expected. The facility I went to gave the tour from an enclosed area where we observed the process through glass windows. We didn’t hear much of the noise or enjoy the smells. The room we were in was equipped with a room deodorizer that periodically shot a mist on the air which covered up any noxious odors. I wondered what was in the deodorizer and why suddenly I was feeling a lot of love for all those recyclers working the picking line, hmmmmm.

Anyway… the thing that got most my attention was the amount of “recycled” items that aren’t recycled. A lot of the stuff…most of the stuff, we put into our recycle bins isn’t recycled, it is disposed of in the landfill. I was a little taken aback and somewhat hurt that all the plastic, cans, and containers that I had rinsed and carefully placed into my recycle bin were being treated like garbage and I was wondering why?

The tour guide must have seen the questions in my eyes…I heard the mister spray again and the love return. The tour guide went on to explain that recycling, while being good for the environment is in the final analysis a business activity. Items we toss that don’t have market value are stored or sent on to the landfill. Most of what I saw being saved was plastic containers and cardboard, so I assumed most of the unwanted material became garbage. The tour guide went on to say, “When something has value or there is a market for a recycled item it is captured, bundled and sold.” I pointed out a bin filled with glass bottles and I asked our tour guide why they weren’t recycled? His answer was that it’s cheaper to make new glass than recycle. I was becoming educated and my BBA was starting to ease. I learned that recycling is about money, at least here in the U.S. it is, and until there is a demand for recycled glass or the price of virgin glass goes up….it’s off to garbage land with used glass.

Reclycing BinsIt turns out that U.S. Recyclers are very picky about what they want and are only willing to spend the time, labor and money on items that can easily and quickly be captured from the recycle stream. In other countries recycling has taken on a whole new meaning. I recently read about another country where even a tennis shoe is dismantled for the metal, leather and rubber. Is that cost effective? Probably not, but those countries are coming closer to a sustainable life style than we are. The tour was an eye opener and it got me to questioning if there was any real value to recycling here in the U.S., or was it all just a way to make money, appearing to be environmental?

Organizations that promote and support recycling here in the U.S. need to do more toward developing new markets for the goods we now toss into our landfills. Most of their efforts are spent on maintaining the status quo of recycling and they don’t take kindly to anyone rocking the garbage boat.

Public awareness and acceptance for environmental programs continues to grow and recycling organizations need to embrace environmentalism and its potential benefits. The U.S. needs to follow the lead of countries that have successful recycling programs, programs that are reclaiming up to 75% of waste materials. Recyclers need to get away from the idea that recycling is just a for-profit business and begin to look at recycling as the anchor for all our environmental programs.

Use, reuse, recycle and reclaiming are all about sustainability; it should become the mantra of all businesses and consumers. We need to rethink how our products and packaging are designed, used and when the life of a product is over how the resource is reclaimed. Sustainability is important for our future and it’s the only way we will be able to ensure a healthy planet and that resources will be available for future generations.

Blue Barrel Anxiety
Max Clark