BY DENNIS SALAZAR
We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us
Considering the surge in public awareness and all the media attention on our fragile environment, you may find this fact astounding – it is estimated that only about 30% of the waste able to be recycled, actually is.
Why don’t more people recycle their recyclable waste? The answer is as simple: because they don’t have to.
When I’m in mixed company or in the presence of young children, I refer to these non-recyclers as “Landfillers”. The Landfillers choose not to recycle because there is no immediate, short-term benefit to them, and absolutely no penalty for not complying.
I suspect the 30% figure varies greatly from one town or state to another. I am certain the actual percentage in my area is far less because of the Landfillers. In Southern California and other areas, recycling with meticulous sorting is required, but in our suburban Chicago village, we have no recycling regulations whatsoever. As a result, I would estimate the number of households on our street that do not use their recycling bin is probably close to 50%. What do the Landfillers do with their village-issue recycling bins? My best guess is the bins are used as step stools or toy bins, or got tossed in the trash and now gather dust in … the landfill.
I have seen how the Landfillers operate. On more than one occasion I have heard the sounds of metal and glass clanging against each other as their plastic bag lands on the driveway on garbage day. Why do I take the time and make the effort to remove the polyethylene dispenser panel on a depleted box of facial tissue when down the street, someone obviously in the computer business routinely throws out outdated and broken computers and monitors? Why do the waste haulers accept that type of electronic waste that is certain to poison our landfills?
America: Dumping Ground for the World
As if the recycling negligence of the Landfillers weren’t bad enough, it is made even worse by the fact that more and more, we are landfilling the world’s garbage.
Consider this. It was recently reported that 80% of all toys sold today in the US come from China. Anyone with children knows the relatively short life span of a toy. Most of them will eventually - and probably sooner than later - wind up as trash along with the packaging they came in. Whether it is toys, plastic bags, steel shelving, or lawn furniture, more and more of it is coming here from overseas. Among the problems not discussed with regard to our diminishing manufacturing based is the strain all these imports put on our garbage disposal resources.
Government Fiddles while America Dumps
Where is our government in all this mess they have allowed us to create? While I have no desire to see government, local or otherwise, getting any more involved in our daily lives than they already are, the Landfillers will never do the right thing until they are forced to. Considering the well-developed governmental tax reflex, I am amazed that revenue hungry municipalities have not figured out that forcing and enforcing recycling is a fertile field for funds. More perplexing still, in this political season, why isn’t waste a hot campaign issue? Why doesn’t a presidential candidate have the vision and guts to address it and be the leader we so desperately need? I guess expounding on global warming receives more headlines than waste and recycling.
How to Stop the Landfillers
One of my favorite people often uses a common adage, “many hands make light work”. In few areas is it truer than on the issue of waste and the environment. We can all do a little or eventually we will all be forced to do a lot more. The trend and direction are becoming more obvious every day and they include:
• Taxes on packaging;
• Fees and taxes on waste; and,
• Outlawing or prohibiting specific materials and forms of packaging.
At least in this one area of recycling, we can indeed legislate morals but until then, we have to assume much of the products and packaging we provide will not be recycled. Those of us in the packaging industry have a responsibility to minimize packaging and engineer more sustainable solutions. I believe we are in the process of developing the technology to save the earth from packaging. Now, we simply need to save the earth from the Landfillers who weekly, on every trash day say, “We simply don’t care”.
By the way, anyone who thinks this focus on consumer waste lets industry of the hook, think again. Some of the greatest Landfillers I have met are companies who unintentionally create much more waste than they realize with secondary packaging.
Secondary packaging is composed of those materials that the average consumer rarely sees and thereby cannot control. These corporate Landfillers and secondary packaging will be the subject of my next article, because like the Landfiller down the street, they do not have the right to generate more waste than absolutely necessary
Dennis Salazar is the president of Salazar Packaging Inc., a certified MBE (Minority Business Enterprise) company specializing in flexible packaging products, equipment and solutions. After over thirty years in plastic film sales, he is the self-proclaimed, “Senor Shrink” of the industry and is known for his tongue in cheek sense of humor as well as his flexible packaging expertise. To contact, please email at: firstname.lastname@example.org