On a recent trip to the Recycling and Disposal Facility, I was confronted with a sign letting me know that from now on, plastic bags had been downgraded from a recyclable to a trash item. The devil on my left shoulder said, “Good. That’s one less thing to sort and another corner of the garage reclaimed,” while the angel on my right shoulder fretted about the environment.
Then there’s RDF Superintendent Gordon Martin, a down-to-earth type. At the dump, what he says goes, and Martin largely ignores selfish attitudes and altruistic ideals when it comes to disposal matters and simply concerns himself with practicalities. The fact is, he says, all those flimsy plastic bags just weren’t pulling their weight.
The truth of the matter is that for the last three years, the dump has been collecting and baling the bags but has ended up throwing them away because there has been no market for them. That’s right, three long years of sorting, baling, storing, and ultimately trashing. So why put residents through it all? Martin points out that with all recyclables, markets go up and down. If he isn’t happy with the current price of boxboard and chipboard, for example, he will have it baled and put in the storage area over by the RDF office until the price goes up and he can spring in and make a killing.
In the case of the plastic bags, however, what Martin finally ended up killing is the crop that yielded plenty of supply but no demand. As for keeping up with the charade of collecting them all, well, past performance suggested that there was reason to be optimistic about future results, but at some point even the most bullish investor has to know when to fold ’em. And sometimes, it takes a few years to know when to walk away. So try not to feel strung along by it all. We all know that it can take time to sever those relationships that once were so symbiotic but somehow ended up one-sided.
The bottom line for Martin was, and always has been, the big picture, and the big picture at the dump is moving the merchandise. The RDF turns back approximately $750k annually to the general fund from recycling sales, trash fees, and the yard waste area. Everything they do they do with this question in mind: Will it make money? When recyclables lie around, obviously they don’t make money.
We, the recyclers, may feel sort of empty inside, after all we’ve been through with plastic bags. As a community, we must now come together and process the harsh news: our plastics aren’t in that composite lumber we used to renovate our decks last spring. Indeed, the “plastic please” bag we asked for at Roche Bros. to bring home our rotisserie chicken last week is most definitely is not the melted-down and reincarnated half cousin of the plastic bag we asked for last year to tote home our arugula.
Now that I think of it, those plastic bags were kind of running amok around our dump. There they were, “decorating” the tree limbs like the tackiest Christmas garland you ever did see, tumble-weeding along the road, cluttering up the wetlands area, which couldn’t have been good for the turtles and other critters, right?
Such as the critters, attracted by the stink and the promise of meal, that the bales would attract while they languished, waiting to be sold to the highest bidder that never did materialize. Ew.
Plastics may have been the future back when Dustin Hoffman starred in The Graduate, but these days, it’s best if we put our unprofitable affair with them behind us.
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