The old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  In this case, a picture is worth millions.  Millions of tons of carbon dioxide that could be saved if we stopped throwing food into landfills, that is.

Food waste is a pet peeve of mine. Yes, we do it at my house, probably way too much, but there is only so much nagging one can do.  I don't have the yard space to do composting - yes, I know, smelly hippies will insist I do it anyway but it isn't always practical. However, there is a 100% chance is it better to put it in the garbage disposal than in the garbage, so I do that whenever practical (so, not bones).

Check out the graphic below.  Some of it we can all easily do, some of it is not so easy.

Via: Fast Haul

Government recycling has become something of a joke. There is enough recyclable waste sitting in landfills to last for years. In the 1980s, I worked for Pennsylvania PIRG lobbying for a bottle bill - a refundable deposit on glass bottles.  By 'lobbying' I mean I was your typical young Republican, going door-to-door raising money for an environmental group(1) to pay actual lobbyists.

It was something of a funny disconnect walking through neighborhoods of Westinghouse people with brochures that contained, among other suspect things, reasons to be anti-nuclear power.  I would explain to employees of a company in the nuclear power business that while PIRG was absolutely wrong on nuclear power, they were right on a bottle bill - if recycling bottles becomes a government mandate, I argued, it is going to accomplish little beyond increasing taxpayer costs for municipal unions and won't benefit the environment at all.  If we charge a nickel deposit on the bottle, people will keep them rather than throw them away.  Boy scouts will come by and collect them.  The private sector will recycle them.  While I was quite successful raising money for them, PIRG failed in its mission. Heavily union Pennsylvania naturally opted for the union way and we got government recycling, increased costs and no benefit.

Looking at the chart above, it seems like San Francisco leads the US in recycling.  Well, that is technically true but not in ways that you would recognize. A few years ago we all got a recycling bin - California declared a whole bunch of new stuff 'recyclable' and my town pushed pickup back to every two weeks.  Regular garbage was once per week still.

You can imagine what happened in towns all across California; the recycling bin is full after a week because everything is now considered recyclable so what happens to the overflow?  See the graphic above again.  It goes into the regular garbage.  San Francisco may lead the country in stuff they dump into recycling bins, but they don't lead the country in actual recycling.  If you think perfumed, slick magazines can actually be recycled, well, you probably live in San Francisco.

But recycling technology has started to catch up, since these regulations cost businesses a lot of money. Tecnalia Research&Innovation has developed a detection system for what they call waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and they say it detects 98% of various WEEE that cannot be ordered by conventional procedures, due to their similarities in color, weight and shape. There testing led to reducing the cost of recycling for companies by 10% and to reducing external cost, i.e. those derived from destruction and dumping. So far, they recover about 400 tons of aluminium per year, 40% more than that obtained with traditional systems, which can generate direct benefits of $800,000 euros a year.

Small change, sure.  Recycling is a $115 billion a year industry.  But actually recycling more recyclable stuff would be good for everyone, since the money is being spent on 1,500,000 employees anyway.


(1) Sorry to burst your stereotype bubble.