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Week of 27 Sept 10: Trash Talkin'

I find it amazing, even among friends and engineers/scientists which I know well, that any question of environmental policy or the general attitude of the world towards environmental beliefs is nearly a taboo subject.  It is like the '50's, when sex was not discussed in polite company.

Even the subject of landfills, where the science is solid, brings me stares when I question the many intrusive ways landfills are costing each one of us personal time and angst each week. 

Now comes forth Cleveland, Ohio, with garbage police, who are going to root through your trash, without a search warrant, and fine you if you are not recycling properly.  And, in parts of British Columbia, they are going high tech with this idea, mounting cameras on garbage trucks, wirelessly linked to a database, where they will grade your trash sorting expertise and fine you if you are not recycling properly.

And no one wants to discuss these matters?  Has everyone lost their minds?

On Thursday afternoon, 16 Sept 10, I wanted to get rid of a small amount of construction debris (a wall about 10 feet long and a couple of old doors).  I loaded the Gray Ghost (my pickup truck) with this material and headed to our city transfer station.  I was stressed, for I knew they only took "small amounts" of construction debris.  My success at getting rid of this material at a facility I pay for with tax dollars was going to be dependent on my ability to talk my way into a dump! 

The world has come to the point I am stressed out about my trash. Others want to violate constitutional rights here to protection from unreasonable search and seizure in order to fine you for not properly sorting your trash.  Do these matters not bother anyone?

We have talked plenty about landfills here in the past, and I have commented about how little trash we all really make, compared to the size of the earth.  And as many of you know, I have traveled much of the United States, on the ground, and could point out a number of vast wastelands, close to major population centers, that could be made into modern landfills.  We lack neither the space nor the technology to make modern landfills that would take everything we discard.

Speaking of modern landfills, everyone seems to be trained to think that putting anything in these places is a sin.  The modern landfill is a tight vessel from which nothing can escape.  On the odd chance that something might escape, it is surrounded with monitoring wells which are carefully watched.  We no longer throw our trash just anywhere, it is put in a place with the protection of a maximum security prison.

In the paper industry, all of this obsession has been turned to our advantage.  The obsession about recycling has created a whole new fiber stream for us.  In fact, a risk to the industry is  a reversal in attitudes, causing recycling to diminish in importance.  Although we cannot see that happening at the moment, if the population wakes up and sees what foolishness we are doing with garbage police and so forth, it is a risk.

This is a risk of a significant backlash that would destroy the paper industry's recycling stream.  For if people are awakened by the extremist measures I cited above, they will completely rebel and recycling will become unpopular.  That is a long term danger for our industry, and a reason we should be citing rational, economic reasons to recycle, not emotional ones.  The emotional ones are just that: emotional, and make no sense in the long term.  Over a decade ago, I coined a term, "irrercyclaphobia" --the fear of not recycling.  It is still alive and well, but the conditions arising today just may burst the bubble.

Archeologists in the distant future will not be able to analyze our society by looking at our trash.  What they will analyze is why we were so irrationally obsessed with our trash.

In our weekly quiz, we are asking about your environmental acitivism.  You can take it here.

For safety this week, let us talk about your recycled paper storage for a moment.  It is a dangerous place with heavy moving machinery, a chance of fire, and the possibility someone has put something really toxic in a bale of OCC.  Might be time to check up on your overall safety in this area.

Be safe and we will talk next week.

A Consultant Connection Member at your service: Is it really slime? Does something smell funny? Developing a product new antimicrobial properties? Independent Biocide Consulting & Audits. Solving problems. Saving money. International Microbial Associates Linda Robertson

Want to see the column earlier on Thursday? Follow me on twitter here. They are usually posted around noon US Eastern Time.

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