Sunday, October 16, 2005


There were so many fewer questions
When stars were still just a hole in the heavens…

Well, I solved the basic Internet access problem by plugging into a phone jack in the cafeteria manager’s office at W.W. Lewis Jr. High school in Sulphur, Louisiana. (I first got a local, toll-free number from my Internet provider, of course.) So, access hasn’t been why I haven’t posted to this blog for a while. Instead, the problem is one of tone: I seem to have almost nothing to say except judgement, criticism, and whining. I’m wanting to say something dramatic, profound, hilarious, or at least informative, but…

Louisiana has no recycling program. No, really. They tried curbside, it didn’t work and it didn’t pay for itself, and they quit. Every plastic bottle, glass container, scrap of paper, piece of cardboard, and tin can in the state of Louisiana is landfilled. There is a little bit of commercial recycling, run out of Texas (on diesel), in the local area. Some folks recycle aluminum cans, because they have actual resale value. Otherwise, landfill, landfill, landfill.

After Hurricane Rita, there was no garbage service. People were evacuated from their houses for two weeks, so not a lot of garbage was produced, but as they came home HUGE amounts of trash were generated—roof materials, soaked and moldy furniture, etc., etc. Also, very few folks had the foresight during the chaos of evacuation to empty their refrigerators, so a whole lot of putrescibles found their way into garbage bags which then went out on the curb, and in many localities, have yet to be picked up. Many, many refrigerators and freezers are taped closed and placed at curbside, the contents to horrific to deal with, even to save the appliance. North Lake Charles, where I am today, smells like poo multiplied by puke to the third power. (poo x puke)(poo x puke)(poo x puke) Yikes! It is a borderline health hazard at this point, totally avoidable if people habitually did backyard composting.

I am, of course, highly critical even of curbside recycling. It is an end of pipe, half-assed energy intensive solution which is at its far end shrouded in mystery. Nobody in the city of Berkeley or Nevada County can give me a straight answer about where #1 and #2 plastic bottles go, let alone the much more difficult to recycle yogurt containers, #7 plastics, and other miscellanea that end up in curbside bins. The American Plastics Council, an industry front, encourages municipalities to pick up all plastics, sort them out, and then sell what they can to brokers. This creates the illusion that plastic is a sustainable, environmentally friendly substance when in point of fact it is petroleum. ('Nuff said!) The recycling symbol was never copyrighted by the hippies who came up with it, so you could put it on nuclear waste and get away with it.

Once the brokers purchase the plastic in lots, where they go becomes proprietary information, and impossible to track. The fact that a huge amount of what is collected as plastic recycling goes off the end of the sorting conveyor belt into a landfill dumpster at the recycling center is conveniently ignored. In the state of California, where cities have been required to reach waste reduction quotas, many places were found to be routinely counting this landfill in their diverted-from-landfill tonnage! Meanwhile, we still don’t require Coca Cola to use any recycled content in their pop bottles and guess what? Due to petroleum subsidies both official and unofficial, it is cheaper to make new bottles out of 100% virgin material, so that is what they do.

Even glass recycling isn’t what it is cracked up to be. (HeHeHe...) A huge amount of glass that is collected to be recycled is actually pulverized into cullet, and then used as road bed. Now, maybe there is some environmental benefit to not mining gravel for the road bed, but if a material doesn’t cycle again, I don’t think that it should be called "recycling." Besides, recycling glass shouldn’t contribute to paving the planet—that is just not right!

The reason that aluminum has such high recycle value is actually not in the material itself. It is in the energy intensiveness of making aluminum. Generally electrical current is passed through bauxite until it turns molten. The resultant material is alloyed and refined into aluminum. Making aluminum from aluminum requires 5% as much energy as making aluminum from scratch—that is why aluminum has actual resale value. Other commonly recycled materials don’t pay for themselves once the cost of collection, sorting, and transporting has been accounted for.

Recycling, like educating people, providing health care for the indigent, public transportation, voting, and a host of other things that make society work, doesn’t pay for itself in the "free market" sense. Of course, if you believe in free markets, I have a bunch of ocean front property to sell you in Idaho…

A materials stream that puts responsibility onto manufacturers for returning materials either to the industrial materials stream or harmlessly back into the environment, would give more of a true cost accounting. By internalizing what economists call "externalities," we could begin to explore the viability of the "free market" concept. The use of taxpayer dollars to repair damage to people and ecosystems created by industrial processes amounts to a massive subsidy for those industries. Could the nuclear industry make affordable electricity if it were responsible for paying the true cost of mining rights, remediation of mining sites, and true waste disposal? No way. Currently Coca Cola makes a profit on its pop bottle, and then we the people pay to collect it, process it, and send it to China where a fourteen year old girl will melt it in a big pot, breathing carcinogens and endocrine disrupters all the while, and turn it into a worthless plastic car which will come back to the U.S. to help Burger King sell a Happy Meal. Socialists used to say that profit was theft from the workers. It may be that profit is also theft from the earth and the future generations.

How does this relate to EarthQuakerism? For the answer to that, and other mysterious questions, you must read the next blog, "John Woolman and the Plastic Bottle."

If you have previously tried to post to this blog and been frustrated,I hope thatI have corrected the problem, with help from my brother in law...


Blogger Limousines in Los Angeles said...

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12:07 PM, October 16, 2005  
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10:02 PM, November 03, 2005  

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