Watching films from the World War II era, one is struck by the images of Americans gathering up old tires, tin cans, and other materials to recycle “for the war effort.” But the oddity is that after the war, recycling became marginalized in all sorts of ways. The rising prosperity in the US seemed to make recycling simply silly or at least of small importance. “Just throw it in the landfill; we live in a disposable culture.” When I was in elementary school, I went around the neighborhood collecting newspapers to take to recycling, and a trunk-load of my dad’s car got me about $1.50. And in junior high, I would collect pop bottles for the two-cent deposit.
But we live in a different world today, where there is much more awareness that the planet cannot sustain a disposable culture. Many cities have mixed recycling pick-up, where one only needs to separate out bottles from the remaining types of recycling. And hopefully this will become increasingly efficient. But it also calls for more awareness about recyclying and reuse. Even given a higher awareness these days, this past week I saw things piled up by several neighbors’ trash bins that could easily have been taken to St. Vincent (see below) or one of the other local secondhand outlets.
Here in Eugene, two institutions really stand out.
NextStep Recycling is an award-winning organization that started out as a small Macintosh computer repair company and became a multi-faceted nonprofit. Their primary business is to repair, recycle, repurpose, and resell used electronic devices (especially computers, TVs, stereos, and cell phones). It also trains unemployed and underemployed workers.
One of the most amazing nonprofits in our area is St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County. Like other organizations (such as Goodwill and Salvation Army), they have retail outlets where they sell used items: from clothing and housewares, to books and videos. But St. Vincent is remarkable in many ways; and the diversity with which they have addressed recycling and reuse is especially notable:
• recycle styrofoam packing material in compressed blocks
• created the first commercially viable program to recycle mattresses (they can reuse 85% of the material in a used mattress!)
• repair major appliances, propane tanks, and fire extinguishers
• reclaim and recycle CFC gases from old refrigerators and freezers
• create decorative products out of recycled glass
• reuse partially used candles to creat Brick-O-Wax blocks of parafin for candlemakers as well as Ecofire fire starters
• repurpose cotton clothing into clean-up rags
• use “cut-off”s from local mills to build bookcases, tables, and dressers
The other obvious aspect of all this is that all of this creates jobs.
So reuse, repurpose, recycle. It is good for the community. It is good for the planet.