It’s not easy being green

All summer and fall, as my husband and I worked on various home improvement projects, we set aside metals in a minor heap on the back patio. Last week, before the snow fell, we hauled them to a local recycler.

Metal prices have plummeted, even for copper and brass. The technician weighed what we had, from an old aluminum porch chair to a broken stepladder to a bunch of miscellaneous pipes and motor parts. Then he got out his calculator and handed us $7.

“Don’t spend it all in one place,” he joked.

At least we had the satisfaction of keeping it out of the landfill. Our efforts may not count for much in the face of the possible consequences of climate change. Still, we recycle where we can. You’ve got to start somewhere.

I used to bring things to the county recycling center, but after a while people began abusing the service by dumping garbage there too. What a mess. After the prices paid for metal, glass and plastic recyclables cratered, the county decided it wasn’t economical to continue. The recycling center closed.

Since then, my neighbor and I have shared the cost of having a hauler come by once a week to pick up our single-stream recycling bin. It irked me at first to have to pay. After all, I’m giving them things they can sell for a profit. Why charge me too?

But recycling is a tough business with thin margins. The hauler must send massive, specialized trucks over long distances to pick the stuff up, and then sort and warehouse it all. That’s got to be costly.

Instead of the standard blue barrels, the recycler gave us an enormous receptacle, almost a mini-Dumpster on wheels, in which to collect our recyclables. The truck comes on Tuesday mornings and with a great clatter, extends robotic arms to clutch the bin and upend it into the deep interior of the vehicle. No human hands involved.

Between the two households, we rarely come close to filling the bin. Our combined bottles, cans, junk mail and newspapers generally take up about half to two-thirds of the receptacle.

I’ve always thrown my used holiday wrapping paper into the recycling bin along with everything else, but I’ve now learned that most of it can’t be recycled. The paper is impregnated with other components, like glitter or foil, or it may be coated with a plastic film.

The environmental impact of Christmas wrapping paper is not insignificant. One estimate puts the damage at 100,000 trees lost every year—“trees that would be better left to absorb carbon dioxide and offset our carbon footprints,” an article on the subject scolds.

You could opt out of wrapping paper altogether and go with recyclable alternatives like brown bags or newspaper. If that seems too drab, reuse is another option. I, for one, have always saved used Christmas paper for service the following year (though I’ve never ironed it, as some are said to do).

Cheap? Nope. Just call me environmentally sensitive.

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  • Blog Author

    Jacqueline Damian

    Jacqueline Damian is a writer and editor living in Milford, PA. The author of "Sasha’s Tail: Lessons from a Life with Cats" (W.W. Norton), she has worked in newspapers, magazines, book publishing and technology journalism. Read Full
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