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Seems it’s easier to be green in a recession

Submitted by on Monday, 26 January 2009 No Comment

recyclingTurns out Big Guy is an astute observer of trends. He just can’t figure out yet why they’re happening.

“Mommy, there’s not much in the paper garbage,” he said today, pointing to our 13-gallon can for recyclables. “Why not?”

He was right – five days after our last trash-pickup, I hadn’t taken a can out all week and it remained only half full. But, then, so did the “food garbage can” right beside it, so the lack of refuse wasn’t because we weren’t doing our environmental duty.

And last week I was shocked when we lugged half-empty toters to the curb. Are you sure you emptied all the garbage, Big Guy asked.

Turns out, we’re just like many other Californians. Dumps across the state are seeing less in-coming trash as the tight economy means there’s less waste to throw away.

“There always have been three givens in life: death, taxes and garbage,” Evan Edgar, a civil engineer and a regulatory advocate for the California Refuse Recycling Council, told The LosĀ  Angeles Times. “Since the 1970s, that’s been a mantra in our industry. But what this recession has shown is that we will have death and taxes, but garbage is no longer recession-proof.”

We actually jumped on the anti-garbage bandwagon shortly after Boots moved in and steadily climbing day-care costs forced economizing.

Individual-serving containers were the first to go – we started buying full-size applesauce and parsing it out in Tupperware, though I still have a collection of old containers. They make great vessels for glitter and paint.

Next, we started hording packing material. The downside to my online-shopping habit is all the boxes, papers and Styrofoam. While those items do wind up in the trash sooner or later, it’s not until after they’re transformed to an art project. In Big Guy’s case, they’re dumped later rather than sooner. He’s taken to tacking all projects and most school papers to his bedroom wall, refusing to part with a single scrap. I look for the fire marshal to condemn his room any day now.

Juice boxes and sandwich bags fell by the wayside next, in favor of Thermoses and sandwich boxes. I switched from making most of our bread to making all of it, eliminated another layer of thrown-away plastic.

I do still buy plastic wrap and aluminum foil, but that’s only because I’ve yet to find a reusable container big enough to hold a pizza crust or pound cake without eating too much freezer real estate. Let me know if you find one.

I’ll admit that “how low can the can go” is a game I’m starting to enjoy, particularly as I imagine how much less garbage there will be for the guys’ generation to deal with.

First, there’s the financial cost of building a landfill – millions – as well as the cost of closing one – billions in some cases. Then there’s the environmental cost in polluted land, water and air. Saving the guys from those things is all good in my book.

The bad news, though: As we throw less away, existing landfills become more expensive to operate. In San Diego, the Times says, officials are trying to decide whether to cut services or increase fees to make up for lost money.

Ironic that being green could wind up costing us more in the short term. It’s a sacrifice I’ll make for the guys’ future, though.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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