The following are some important ideas regarding recycling in the border region by guest contributor Dr. Marshall Carter-Tripp:
Recent travels in the West/Northwest and into Alberta took me to several national parks, and to small cities and towns along the way, many in very isolated areas. It was interesting to discover that recycling exists in places where there is no Internet or cell phone coverage! For example, the lodging areas of Yellowstone National Park have many strategically placed recycling bins, and each cabin had separate trash and recycling baskets. Accommodations at Flagg Ranch, between Yellowstone and Glacier, also had these recycle bins and separate containers in the rooms. Hotels in some towns, such as the Hampton Inn in Butte, Montana, offered recycling. As we returned, we found the Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences was in the group, and its recycling included glass.
And so to El Paso. Seven years ago the city did institute a weekly recycling curbside for the citizenry, rather than forcing individuals to drive to collection centers. But there is much more to do.
The city has stopped promoting the program, and participation is falling. And the city itself is not setting the example. City facilities, with rare exceptions, do not provide any recycle containers – this applies to high-traffic sites such as the city’s museums and to its own offices (although there is a small recycling bin visible in the hallway of City Hall 1). The new city-owned baseball stadium has no bins. You may say: “who would participate?” – but we’ll never know if we don’t try.
Businesses are not included in the recycle pickups. (The local Target stores have recycle bins, but the corporate offices do not respond to queries as to where the glass collected is recycled; it’s hard not to think this is just green-washing. Fort Bliss some years ago did the same thing, accepting glass at its collection center only to discard it.)
Contrast this with, for example, the city of Baltimore. Businesses may participate in the curbside pickups free of charge. City government offices and public and private schools are encouraged to get involved. The Mayor has made this a personal goal. The city of Durham, North Carolina, has a similar outreach program for businesses.
The El Paso recycling program does not collect glass, apparently on the grounds that there is no local market for it – but El Paso is just across the “river” from Mexico, where recycled glass is turned into goblets and other consumer items. If we can’t send our glass to Mexico, there can be uses for it right here. One intriguing idea is crushing the glass for use in parking lots, replacing asphalt. The resulting surface is very porous, allowing water to seep through rather than wash off in storms (a huge problem in El Paso). Billings, Montana, for example, put this to work:
The glass in the product comes from, among others, Yellowstone National Park, where it is collected far from its end use! El Paso could benefit from this experience and stop putting glass in the landfill while greatly reducing storm water runoff. Glass is a huge problem in the waste stream, and its re-use should be addressed here in the border region.
Some imagination and some leadership could help the city to set an example that others want to follow! Recycling has a complex history in the U.S., and nationally we could do much more. Achievement varies greatly by city and state. While we may not be able to outdo San Francisco El Paso could do much more than it currently does. Smart use and re-use of natural resources will ensure that future generations can live as well as we do and remember us with appreciation. And perhaps someday the U.S. will decide to emulate Sweden, now recycling 99% of its trash! –Marshall Carter-Tripp