Why are we recycling?

Published 3:24 pm Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Last week, Cindy Walker, Carolyn Ashburn, and I went to Spartanburg to the United Resource Recovery Corp (NURRC) facility. We are gearing up for recycling at the Blue Ridge BBQ in just a few weeks (June 11th and 12th) and were told that this recycling company could provide the BBQ with recycling bins for bottles and cans. The public relations person there is named Brandy; she invited us to come for a tour of the facility to see their process. It was fascinating. It has been a long time since Ive been inside a building with a dozen or more working, vibrating machines, each as big as our house. The gigantic machines are connected by conveyor belts or shoots carrying plastic bottles in various forms, starting at the back door loading dock with baled, smashed bottles and caps, ending with three or four grades of clean plastic chips that look like confetti suitable for use in different types of plastic products. The highest quality chips are food grade for drink bottles, and the lower quality of chips are used for things such as battery covers or decking.

NURRC is a collaboration between URRC and Coca-Cola. The Spartanburg plant may be the worlds largest PET Bottle-to-Bottle recycling plant (PET is food grade plastic used for coke and water bottles). Working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, NURRC produces 55 million pounds of recycled plastic flake; the Coca Cola Company needs a billion pounds of flake to supply its needs. Why does the NURRC company not produce more flake at this plant or its other plants around the country? Because they cant get the used plastic bottles. We dont recycle enough to supply their needs. Something like 85% of the plastic bottles produced go in the landfill.

For years, Ive heard folks say that recycling is a waste of time because there is not a market for the used bottles and cans, or that we ship the used bottles to China and thats a waste, or whatever. The reality is that recycling has turned into a growing, profitable business. Its not the old hippies that are touting the banner; its the big boys like Coca Cola. Waste for one is profit for another.

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Brandy gave us a blank look when we talked about the days when we took our coke bottles back to the store for a refund. She is too young; shes 35 or so. What brought up the subject was that there is no market for recycles glass nowadays. Why? We dont know. Could it be because no one can figure out how to make enough money recycling glass, that plastic is more profitable?

I was thinking about the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. The first two, reduce and reuse, dont seem to have become a habit for us as a society. No one has encouraged us to reduce consumption or reuse products because industry and its marketing gurus know that they cans make any money if we reduce or reuse. Our society seems to be driven by what vendors want to sell us, convincing us that we need what they have to sell. The truth of the matter is that recycling is a huge waste of energy. Its just not quite as wasteful as making plastic bottles out of virgin materials. Returning the glass bottles was the smart thing to do. Coca Cola started making plastic bottles rather than re-using the glass bottles because they could make more money, and it was easier. They were no longer responsible for the used bottle; that was our problem. And our dumps are overflowing with those plastic bottles, while Coca Cola profits grow. Conscientious citizens started protesting about the waste, so now Coca Cola is being the good guy, investing in a recycling facility to process their own waste and get paid to do it. Somehow, it makes me think that us consumers are just plain suckers. We were convinced that it would be much easier to buy our soft drinks in a disposable bottle, and we pay. The earth is certainly paying for our gullibility.

Sometimes I get tired of the fact that our society is all about money. Life is so much more. Maybe if we can slow down a bit we will have time to reduce our energy consumption is all sorts of ways, and reuse those things that have served us well in the past. Its worth some thought for sure.

Since the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, Ive determined one ultimate truth. Industry has

the right to make money, but

industry does not have the right to destroy life. Can we shift our patterns of consumption to support industry that supports life? That would require a higher level of consumer participation for sure.