On Recycling

April 27th, 2009

Reuse Reduce Recycle

I’m often asked where the desire to “give back” comes from. If it was something deeply rooted by my parents or something innate inside of me. My family and upbringing in Pittsburgh was very community-based and I was nurtured to pursue any hopes or goals I had.

That being said, through being nutured, I believe it was something always inside of me. Just a part of my DNA. I like to say I was a “little girl with big glasses”, at St. Edmund’s Academy in the Sq. Hill part of Pittsburgh and it was the 4th grade when I asked my teacher, Mr. Sciulli, why our school didn’t recycle.

My first love: The Environment

Now this was Pittsburgh. In the 1980’s. No one really talked about recycling yet and I honestly don’t remember why I got hooked on the idea. Mr. Sciulli told me if I was interested in the idea, he would help make it happen. I took him up on it and within months the program was up and running. I got separate bins for classrooms (being pre-blue bin era) and collected the paper at the end of every week to put aside. The janitors were in on it and helped out.

Cans were easier. We weren’t allowed soda and so there weren’t very many around. Teachers had some, but I don’t remember really worrying about cans. I was worried about paper. It seemed like we threw so much away!

It worked. Both in my school and soon enough it seemed like we were on the cusp of a bigger movement (first sign I’m a early-adopter maybe?) because the City of Pittsburgh started recycling too. It seems like such a necessity in any city what with so much trash and increasingly population, how imperative it is to reduce, reuse, recycle whenever possible.

Since those days of Pittsburgh, I’ve lived in Vermont and California, two bastions for environmentalism. I thought it was a give-in, this recycling thing. Thinking about the effects of the products you used on the environment.

Perhaps, that is why it’s all the more shocking and jarring to see recycling not done in New Orleans. That’s right. No recycling.

Landfill in New Orleans EastDid I shock you? Good. NONE is overkill, there is SOME, but not ENOUGH. But since the storm, very very little. And the citizens have to pay for it. And the City does nothing to subsidize or bring it back to the mainstream.

I understand the City was decimated. And it’s hard enough to get people back on their feet let alone focus on the environment. From the beginning of the recovery post-Katrina, officials said “we don’t have time” to focus on recycling all of the materials from neighborhoods where houses were being demolished. “We have to get rid of the debris to build again.”

In August, it will be four years since the Hurricane and plenty has still not been rebuilt. Makes you think about all the trash and landfills that accumulated four years ago.

But the lack of recycling is worse than the City not pushing for it. There is a general malaise about the situation from the people. From the professional business types to the low-income areas. Styrofoam is served LOUD & PROUD here. Plastic cups and togo cutlery. Cute indie coffee shops, restaurants, hotels - styrofoam! No recycling bins ANYWHERE. How is this possible?

My question to New Orleans is this:

**How can you rebuild for the future with such blatant disregard for the future? **

The waste we produce today is here 10, 100, 1000 years from now. It doesn’t just go away. It’s not “out of sight, out of mind.”

Did you know styrofoam has no indication of breaking down and decomposing EVER? Huh? Yes that’s right. It’s resistant to oxidation and is artificial, so no organisms can eat it. Normally there are various levels of decomposition based on ambient temperatures but not for our friend styrofoam.

Yes it’s an effort to recycle, to separate items. Yes, I know. But it feels GOOD to make that every day contribution. Do you know what a difference New Orleans, the state of Louisiana, the United States, the World would be if we all made just 5% more effort to focus on how our consumption affects the planet?

Here in New Orleans, I have met some people who use SDT whose service is $18/per household / per month if and only if 500 people in your area sign up. There is also Phonix Recycling. Colored glass is never taken, too expensive. Some don’t take paper. I know people who do their best, but have to go out of their way to make recycling a reality.

Imagine no blue bins or trash baskets for cans, paper, glass in the whole city? It’s overwhelming.

There are options out there. The citizens have to demand it though and as I’ve heard time and time again:

“The current administration isn’t going to do anything because the Mayor and the City Council have a practically nonexistent relationship and an open disdain for the other. Nothing is going to change until the next Mayoral election.”

I have to urge each of you to reconsider this laissez-faire approach. Not to sound like a green hippie but her name is MOTHER EARTH. Love and respect her and treat her right. She deserves much better from all of us.

Resources for more information on recycling in New Orleans: SDT Waste & Debris Phoenix Recycling List of all New Orleans Recycling Centers The Green Project Tulane’s Recycling Guide

A visual after thought…

One For The Road: Leave No Tray Behind

Check out this video from the Parson School of Design on the usage of styrofoam in schools in New York City. I found it to be visually stunning.

I’m interested in your thoughts, from New Orleans, or elsewhere on why we’re so complacent about recycling. When did it go out of style? If green in the new black shouldn’t that start with recycling what we already consume?

If you liked this post, you might like: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About My Kiva Fellowship The Humanitarian Making Lemonade From Lemons

Free Weekly Tips on building giving into your every day life. More details »