There are problems with recycling both locally and nationally. Recycling nationally is being impacted by global politics. Until recently China bought much of our recyclable material. Of late however, they have decided that for both domestic reasons and reasons relating to the trade wars that they will no longer be buying our material. Without that international market the price of some recyclables has been plummeting.
Meanwhile waste has been showing up throughout the biosphere, from vast “islands” of bulk plastics in certain regions of the oceans to microplastics in the guts and even flesh of ocean fish and invertebrates.
Locally, the county has recently decided that the provision of recycling bins in London, Dover, and Hector is too expensive. The only alternative now is for everybody to haul recyclable materials an extra 25 or so miles to the county shop in Russellville. Previously, the bins were available at all hours every day. The county shop location is only open during business hours.
Even in Russellville, recycling is less effective for those without curbside pickup. The city of Russellville’s site at Recycle Works now collects recyclable materials in large open bins with no separation of the material. Previously, enclosed bins with compartments for the different materials were employed. Now, everything is thrown together in the open bins and thus exposed to the weather. This results in much lower yields of usable recyclable material and more waste that must then be hauled off to a landfill.
Again the argument is one of cost. It is cheaper to utilize the open bins, even though the process is less effective. On a recent visit to Recycle Works, I saw a large screen TV and what appeared to be some food waste commingled with the actual recyclable material.
Without recycling opportunities in rural areas, it is likely that we will see an increase in wastes, including recyclables, being dumped in the bar ditches of back roads and ravines. Out of sight, out of mind?
There certainly were some problems with some misuse of the recycle bins. Essentially the bins have been utilized for trash dumping. But abandonment of the process will not make the problem go away. Wouldn’t enclosed bins both rurally and in Russellville be less likely to be abused as trash depots? In this day and age, simple video monitors could be employed. This would help with enforcement of existing laws against littering.
This is a public health matter. I think most the people of Pope county want to do the right thing. The people want waste properly managed and recycling opportunities maintained. In the long run, educating and assisting the public in recycling is going to yield a better outcome at a lower cost.
Better still is to reduce the amount of waste going into the system. Container deposit laws ensure a much greater return of materials for recycling. In Arkansas, several attempts at deposit legislation over the past decade have failed to become law. New bills will be introduced in 2019.
Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.