I believe in recycling. It's good for the economy, for America ... for the environment.
But I'm up to my ass in glass and plastic that I cannot recycle because Southeast Texas has yet to see the wisdom in protecting our already fragile environment here.
Alas, here in Beaumont, Texas, opportunities to recycle are limited. That's hard to imagine for a city of over 100,000 in a region of almost a quarter million people. One may take aluminum cans and waste paper to private local recyclers, but there are no recyclers who'll take glass or plastic. The City of Beaumont flirted with curbside recylcing a few years ago, but it failed miserably. And the City of Houston has an active recycling program ... but unless you can prove you live in Houston, you can't even donate your recyclables!
A little recycling is better than NO recycling, but glass and plastics are among the most plentiful and longer lasting materials we're plowing into our landfills. How much tax money could we save (or better yet, earn) if we could take glass and plastic out of the waste stream in Southeast Texas?
Well, here's some math: A typical family generates about 60 pounds of recoverable newspaper, cardboard, glass, plastic, tin, and aluminum every month. That means the roughly 140,000 households in Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties are generating about 8.4 million pounds (4,200 tons) of recyclable waste every month. That's 50,000 TONS of recyclables a year, most of which is going into our landfills (or onto our deplorably dirty roadsides or beaches.)
Are we serious about energy independence in America? Well, recycling one plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60W lightbulb for up to 6 hours. One plastic bottle. Recycling one glass jar saves enough energy to light a 100W light bulb for four hours. Recycling glass requires less energy to make new bottles or jars, too. Can we ever hope to sever our ties to the Middle East if we can't even keep one plastic bottle out of the dump?
Well, we can't do it in Southeast Texas. We talk big about a lot of things, but we appear to the outside world that we don't care about our environment or our country's future. Worse, those of us who are intent on recycling must waste gasoline to take our recyclables to distant cities where they can be processed, usually donating the materials simply to a church or school because we believe in it.
Beaumont's city fathers are now canoodling about a new slogan for the city and whether it takes three or four friefighters to drive a truck.. Now, I'd love for them to be spending their time on more substantive issues -- like recycling -- but it seems unlikely. Polticians don't "do," they only talk. Maybe it's time for the citizens who really believe in America's energy independence and our environment to take charge.
Southeast Texans, what can we do?