Monday was Earth Day across the nation and around the globe, an event that began on April 22, 1970, in response to a massive oil spill off the coast of California in 1969. The spill blanketed the coast with oil, enraging environmental activists and inspiring a senator from Wisconsin, of all places, to establish Earth Day as a way to raise awareness to environmental causes.
It seemed to work, with the Clean Water Act coming out of that “call to arms” by environmentalists and concerned citizens. President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, another positive step in the fight for a cleaner nation. How we consume energy, the products we buy and how we choose to discard our waste all play a part in the overall health of the planet.
Unfortunately, one of the easiest ways for people to stay involved and engaged in protecting our environment is taking a bit of a hit. The recycling industry is struggling with a commodity market affected by Chinese bans on certain recyclables, and recycling centers, including Powell Valley Recycling, are feeling the pinch.
Other challenges also exist for recycling centers, including trucking regulations that have increased the cost of transporting recyclables while revenues continue to decrease.
In short, because China no longer wants our garbage, the market for recycling could be going the way of the dinosaur. Cities and towns all across the nation are scrambling to figure out what to do with the stuff they had previously sent abroad. Unfortunately for many communities who can no longer sustain a recycling facility, that means utilizing landfills and incinerators to dispose of the waste. Curbside recycling pick-up is becoming a thing of the past in larger communities as recycling centers continue to shut their doors.
As a country, we’re creating more waste than in any other time in history: According to an EPA study, the United States generated approximately 262 million tons of waste in 2015, up 60 percent from just 30 years ago.
And therein lies the rub. With no simple answer staring us in the face, it’s up to us and our elected officials to brainstorm and problem-solve the issue.
Recycling without cost-effective and environmentally-friendly ways to dispose of the materials is an effort in futility. We as a community and as a state have to find solutions by working together and reducing our reliance on disposable items.
We don’t need to stop recycling; rather, we just have to be smarter about how we do it. Cleaning and sorting our recyclables before we put them in recycling bins may seem like a waste of time, but it’s a small step we can take to help the larger process. There are many vital reasons for changing the way we recycle and dispose of waste, not the least of which is ensuring we keep having an Earth Day to celebrate.