Mikestrathdee’s Blog


Time to stop burying high value recyclables
January 1, 2009, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Environment, Financial Management, Investing, Recycling
Time to stop burying high value recyclables – Wloo Regn Record

Can plunderers see the value in a discarded resource?
March 25, 2008
Mike Strathdee

The first sure sign of spring on Homewood Avenue appeared on Friday morning.

The man carried plastic bags in each hand, criss-crossing the street as he conducted a careful harvesting operation.

If this year is anything like last spring, summer and fall, others will soon follow, in a regular Thursday evening and Friday morning ritual. Last year, they came on bicycles, on foot, in old cars, and on one warm evening, a father and son team who brazenly used shopping carts to ensure that neither full arms nor bags would slow down their treasure hunt.

I’m not fond of these boulevard visitors, as they could be partly responsible for the region’s foot-dragging in rolling out an expansion of the promised residential green bin program.

On the other hand, at least these scavengers recognize something that eludes our municipal and regional politicians: a resource worth more than $2,000 a tonne is too valuable to bury.

The resource in question is aluminum cans, one of the few components of municipal recycling programs that fetch more than the estimated $216 a tonne cost of operating the blue box program, according to a recent Waterloo Region Record story on the blue box.

By stealing the most valuable commodity from curbside blue boxes, the roving can grabbers make the recycling program more expensive to operate, and by extension, more difficult for governments to contemplate expanding.

At least those cans aren’t bound for the landfill, unlike the majority of soft drink containers consumed in public in Kitchener parks and at summer rituals such as the multicultural festival. Look around in months to come, at trash cans brimming with high value recyclables, and rarely a recycling bin within walking distance, let alone nearby.

One estimate suggests that use of recycled aluminum saves 64,300-kilowatt hours per ton of recycled material. That saves as much as 96 per cent of the electricity needed to make virgin material.

Organizers of University of Waterloo’s Canada Day celebrations understand that people will not go out of their way to recycle. They make it easy by having recycling bins beside every garbage can. Municipal governments should copy and model this enlightened approach.

Requiring construction firms to make best efforts to recycle as a condition of getting municipal work would also be a big step forward. When our street was dug up two summers ago for the once-a-generation replacement of sewer pipes, our family collected an extra blue box of cans every week, merely by collecting the small fraction of the workers’ castoffs that we could carry on evening trips home from the neighbourhood pool.

Anything we did not pick up was generally gone by the time I left for work in the morning. Some days I’d get to see cans and bottles being bulldozed under, a practice a neighbour ruefully referred to as standard operating procedure on a construction site.

It’s long past time to stop burying material that is far too valuable to be plowed under.

Mike Strathdee is a Kitchener resident. Second Opinion articles reflect the views of Record readers on a variety of subjects

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