By Trudy Wischemann
“Waste not, want not,” is an old, old saying dating back to the 1700s and before. It is an essentially conserving concept: if you are careful not to waste things, you’ll have greater abundance in this world.
Last week a representative from Mid Valley Disposal gave a presentation to the Lindsay City Council about the measures that company is undertaking to reduce our city’s waste levels and decrease contamination of the recyclable portion. Some of those measures include increased surveillance of our garbage cans, with increased penalties for improperly sorted garbage, recycleables, and green waste. Some are more educational, like the kiosk at city hall for pamphlets describing the proper place for these items we want or need to throw away.
There appears to be a change coming, however, in what can be recycled thanks to the imbalance of U.S. trade with China. One of the things we export to China is our recyclable garbage, which only slightly offsets the huge amount of things we import from them. In retaliation for the tariffs recently imposed by our country on theirs, China has stopped buying our recyclable garbage.
Because of this, suddenly the only plastic items we can throw in our blue cans are those marked with the number “2” on the bottom. “We can’t take 3 through 7 anymore,” the Mid Valley Disposal representative said. I wondered silently when they were going to tell us and how. I wonder how many people check the number anyway, or remember that only certain numbers qualify, since I know that I myself have become lax in that.
It’s been less than a week since I heard the presentation, but my garbage sorting habits changed instantly. Now, aware that a $50 fine could result, I find myself returning to the safer side, saving only the most obvious recyclable items like newspapers, empty cat food cans and milk jugs for the blue can. I toss everything else in the brown can. What the trade imbalance with China will mean for our local landfill problems is suddenly vivid, and most certainly was not anticipated by anyone in Washington, D.C.
As I sorted, I also realized how much of the garbage we toss is packaging material that comes wrapped around the articles we buy from China. That this waste material was twice traversing the Pacific Ocean was mind boggling itself, a total violation of the whole idea behind recycling, which is increased sustainability. There’s nothing sustainable about using fossil fuels to ship garbage back and forth across the world’s largest ocean. Of course, there’s nothing truly sustainable about buying widgets and toasters and a billion other little interlocking consumerist parts from that far away, either.
I think there may be better ways to encourage our residents to learn to sort garbage into salvageable, compostable, hazardous and buriable portions than what is currently being done. But one way we might want to try is the “reduce” approach: to buy less trash in the first place. In fact, it might be time to reverse the old maxim: “Want not, waste not.” For us, the leading consumers of the world, it might be a useful phrase.
Trudy Wischemann is a long-time recycler who also writes. You can send your thoughts on garbage and its economic roots to P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.