Reduction of Household Waste (Recycling, Composting, etc.)

I just came back from a really great vacation up in New York State. The purpose of the trip was to see some family members I had not seen in a few years. The majority of my extended family lives there. Unfortunately, I am not able to visit as much as I like.

I ended up having a wonderful time, but I was also able to get a glimpse into New York’s reputation as the supposed “Home of Recycling”.

New York (or at least upstate New York) has set up a “pay per bag” system of trash disposal where a stamp is purchased for each bag of trash that is set out at the curb. This prompts people to minimize their trash by either recycling, reducing waste, or composting. This is done for a few reasons. Obviously it is better for the environment when fewer disposable one-time use goods are used or are recycled and composting replaces nutrients in the soil that would otherwise be lost in a landfill. Another big reason is that trash is expensive to get rid of, especially in New York. In the late eighties and early nineties, the limited landfill capacity in New York City famously led to barges searching along the eastern seaboard for a place to unload excess trash. 13,000 tons of residential waste is generated each and every day in New York City alone.

Although a trash tax on every bag of trash would be a hard sell elsewhere, it does seem to be forcing people to recycle. There are other ways to reduce the waste stream such as requiring multi-use beverage bottles instead of one time plastic or aluminium or requiring electronics to be recycled. Unfortunately, New York does neither of these (although they do still offer refunds on empties). In fact it’s recycling rates are much lower than the best cities for recycling including San Francisco, California and Portland, Oregon. Both of those cities are recycling at a rate of about 50% of total waste with goals to increase that to 75%.

I would suggest to everyone that they take a preemptive step towards being less wasteful by using fewer one time use items such as paper towels, and also by recycling or even composting applicable items.

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