Friday, May 2, 2008

Jimmy Gardner Talks Trash

It takes about 700 years for a plastic bottle in a landfill to begin decomposing. That’s the number that made me give serious thought to my recycling efforts, long before “sustainable” and “green” became the corporate buzzwords they are today. I’m not painting myself as a crusader for recycling, because frankly, I'm a bit more of a cynic about America's habits. I’ll soon be starting a job designing landfills. With all the waste production in this country, I have no concerns about job security.

I don’t remember exactly when the city of Philadelphia first implemented its recycling program. I just remember those new red trucks with the low sides that would come by the house to pick up our recycling. The distinctive plastic buckets issued by the city held about 10 gallons and were blue. My parents would save cans and glass bottles and jars and put them out in the bucket for the biweekly collection. Newspapers would be placed into old brown paper grocery bags, as if we were wrapping the papers for delivery to the recycling center. The process remained just like that for a good number of years.

In those early days, the city also operated several collection points for plastic bottles. One of these points was at our local high school, so my dad would collect #1 and #2 plastic bottles and drop them off one Saturday morning a month. Around 1996, there were cut backs in the city budget and we lost our recycling site. There were still a few sites that would collect, but my dad decided it was too far away to continue collecting.

Luckily, a few things changed with the city’s recycling program in the following years. The city got newer, bigger trucks. Eventually they even issued each house a new recycling bin, still blue, but now much bigger and actually capable of holding a good amount of recycling. We could now recycle glossy paper in addition to newspapers, so magazines and catalogs could be added to our grocery bags for recycling.

These days, though, the municipality has started doing city-wide curbside plastic recycling. For the first time, paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, steel and aluminum cans and #1 and #2 plastics can all be recycled at the curb. If you need a recycling bin, you can pick one up at a number of sanitation yards throughout the city. You can visit for more details.

The thing that confuses me most is why more people don’t recycle their trash. My roommates, my family and I are not doing anything that takes extra effort. We have an additional bin in the kitchen for recycling . The only real work required is to check plastic container and lids to make sure they're an accepted type.

A few weeks ago, Michael Nutter held a spring cleaning in the city. The mayor challenged the citizens of Philadelphia to a day of city sponsored clean up. Philly provided the trash trucks, corporate sponsors provided the trash bags and gloves and the citizens provided the muscle. Over 10,000 people turned out, to remove over 2.5 millions pounds of litter from the streets. After going out, cleaning up and seeing the difference that can be made, I decided to take the mayor up on his challenge to continue recycling efforts. Most American trash isn't going anywhere; it's not breaking down any time soon. Get on it.

Jimmy is getting his B.S. in Civic Engineering from Drexel and will be heading to Japan this summer to study soil. Upon his return in the fall, he will be working in Waste Management.

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