Recycling has been a common practice for most of human history. The earliest recorded mention of recycling is from Plato in approximately 400 BC. Resource shortages often dictated times of greater recycling. The Second World War saw huge levels of recycling as it was connected to significant patriotic importance and promises that recycling would help win the war effort. The current recycling zeitgeist has been in effect since the 1970s due to increased energy costs that have seen no abatement over 40 years. Curbside pickup of recycled goods has been growing in municipalities throughout Canada and the world since the mid 1980s.
So it is, that the City of Revelstoke has introduced curbside recycling in the year 2012. Is it coincidence that this program has been launched during a year that either signifies the apocalypse or a spiritual transformation of society? If you listen to some of the arguments in our community for and against this program, you might believe that it is, in fact, the recycling program that will trigger this “end of days” and not the Mayan calendar after all!
The curbside recycling program in Revelstoke has been a long time coming. Officially proposed by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District in May 2010, this was the culmination of three years of discussions, meetings and policy development. At the time, it was announced; the service was to commence January 1, 2011 (https://legacy.revelstokecurrent.com//2010/05/18/curbside-recycling-expected-to-begin-in-january/). However, it was postponed until 2012 while the City of Revelstoke got its ducks in a row. According to the City of Revelstoke website, by the time this story reaches you, all homeonwers in Revelstoke will have received pickups of their recyclable goods for the first time.
Early critics of the program have decried the lack of glass pickup, the cost of the program and the requirement that recycling be contained in single use plastic bags. This is perhaps the issue of greatest concern. Not only are bins or boxes that many currently use to collect and store their recyclables unallowable at the curb, but residents must pay for plastic bags on top of the taxes they will already be paying for the service. This leads to the “one step forward, two steps back approach” many are calling the mandated use of single use plastic bags to contain recyclables.
The first step backwards is the requirement that single-use plastic bags are the only acceptable method of collection. The City of Revelstoke website indicates, “Bags were identified as the preferred method of collection. The City’s contract with Bresco also stipulates a bag collection program.” (http://www.cityofrevelstoke.com/index.aspx?NID=305). There is no explanation as to how this identification took place, nor is there indication that these bags will or can be recycled. In a question regarding the recycling of plastic bags or films, the website states that Linear Low Density Polyethylene or LLDPE is a recyclable material and will be accepted, meaning most shopping bags, bread bags, or clear and blue bags. However, a cursory Google search revealed contradictory information that this type of plastic is not often used for curbside pickup as contamination can occur easily and prevent the bag from being recycled. It is true that some bags are made of a biodegradable polyethylene film that will decompose when exposed to air, sun and moisture. However, these are also considered a contaminant to plastic recycling operations (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2009/jun/18/greenwash-biodegradeable-plastic-bags) and widely accepted as no better than regular plastic bags.
The second step backwards is the cost and inconvenience of requiring Revelstoke residents to utilize this sole method of collection. Notwithstanding the tax implications of this new service, citizens must now purchase specific types of bags from grocery or hardware stores in our community. One could argue the Captive Market Syndrome shopping outlets embrace in Revelstoke, and the perceived higher prices it engenders, but that debate has already been exhausted. The reality is that the City of Chicago realized in 2006 this method did not work. First implemented in 1995 the system was highly criticized for its tediousness and inconvenience as blue bags cost more to the homeowners and required additional effort to attain. Most independent studies in Chicago estimated that as a result of these mandated methods, only 9% of waste was in fact diverted to recycling facilities (http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/awful-truth-about-recycling-in-chicago/Content?oid=922697), much less than the 25% projected by Chicago authorities.
So with all this backwards thinking, what is the proverbial step forward? Well, the fact that we even have curbside recycling is a significant step forward. As we are now resolutely into the 2nd decade of this new millennium, we can finally say that Revelstoke is participating in 20th century waste management practices. Based on established timetables, this means our City leaders sometime post-2050 will embrace green waste pickup.
Is this recycling program full of half measures or does it meet your needs? Will you be placing your blue bags at the curb every other week? Sound off in the comments below.