Asking Questions and Doing Things

Wondering out loud

BLUFFTON, SC – I’m jumping up and down and waving that it would be nice for every person who reads this post to join the initiative to recycle more.

Wondering out loud for the first of three times: “How does our society continue to generate so much trash?” The statistics are staggering.

According to EPA estimates the average person generates 4.5 pounds of trash every day – about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year. And although 75-percent of solid waste is recyclable, only about 30 percent is actually recycled.

Did you know we generate 21.5 million tons of food residuals annually? If this food waste were composted instead of being sent to landfills, the resulting reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking more than two million cars off the road.

A good place to start would be to better manage discarded food waste.

Restaurants are notorious for food waste and can make the biggest impact, but almost any business can successfully divert food discards from landfills. Businesses with record-setting food diversion programs are recovering 50% to 100% of their food discards and reducing their overall solid waste by 33% to 85%.

Calling all skeptics, I assure you that before long you won’t even think about it anymore, simply having made recycling part of a daily routine.

Construction and Demolition

According to the National Association of Home Builders, a typical 2,200 sq.ft. home requires 13,000 board feet of framing lumber. If laid end to end, that framing lumber would stretch 2.5 miles. If all the dimensional lumber used to build the 1.2 million new homes constructed in the United State each year were laid end to end, it would extend 3 million miles, the equivalent of going to the moon and back six and a half times.

Home construction, remodeling and demolition projects are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the nation’s annual municipal solid waste.

Bottles and Cans

In 2004, 55 billion aluminum cans were landfilled, littered or incinerated, that’s 9 billion more than were wasted in 2000. This is enough cans to fill the Empire State Building twenty times.

Because so many of them are recycled, aluminum cans account for less than 1% of the total U.S. waste stream, even so, the energy required to replace the just the aluminum cans wasted in 2001 was equivalent to 16 million barrels of crude oil, enough to meet the electricity needs of all homes in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco and Seattle.

During the time it takes you to read this sentence, 50,000 more 12-ounce aluminum cans are made. Let’s recycle them.

Although recycling is the most common method of plastic waste pollution prevention, less than one percent of all plastics products are recycled in the U.S.
Americans throw away 25,000,000 plastic beverage bottles every hour.


Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save:
• 3.5 cubic yards of landfill
• 17 thirty foot (pulp) trees
• 7,000 gallons of water
• 380 gallons of oil
• 4100 kwh of energy
• Eliminate 60 pounds of air pollutants

The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year is enough to heat 50,000,000 homes for 20 years. I’m wondering out loud for a second time: “What kind of government incentives would be necessary to get this to change?”

My pledge to do more

We are a family of four in Bluffton, South Carolina and produce an average of two bags of trash and two full recycling bins per week.

I find myself thinking these numbers ares up from when we lived in Vermont and I could burn paper and cardboard in our wood stove, but down from when I lived in Boston before settling that I recycle about the same amount now for when I lived on Cape Cod.

Over the years I’ve learned it makes it easier if I keep myself organized.

I like to store all recycling in assorted plastic bins in a corner of my garage. One plastic bin is for glass and plastics, then I put paper and cardboard in the other. I use the garden for composting eggs, fish scraps and coffee grounds.

About once a quarter I make a dump run and rid myself of the coffee tin of batteries, jugs of old automotive oil, cans of empty paint and assorted old electronics.

Despite these efforts, I’m willing to pledge right now that I will recycle more. Wondering out loud a third time, “Can I get a pledge from my readership to do the same?”

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