The earth is drowning, or maybe being buried, in trash. Pope Francis, for one, has deplored our use of the planet as a “garbage dump”. Many of us would be glad to reduce much of this stuff by recycling. Most of us, however, don’t have a clue as to how to do it effectively.

In my senior living complex, we are (sort of) set up for recycling. Our kitchens

are equipped with dual pockets for trash bags, one for trash, the other for recyclables.

Trash (and recyclables) are picked up five days a week, out of a single trash container. The same white kitchen bags are used for each. Nobody looks inside to see what is there. There are trash rooms on each floor, each having a receptable for “rubbish” and “recycling”. Works fine on the trash collectors days off, not so much the rest of the time. One wonders whether building codes are being prepped for eventual adoption of mandatory recycling, or a fig leaf for inaction. (The complex I live in is less than four years old).

Then there’s the issue of what should be recycled. Not as simple as it seems. Plastics, for one, should be recycled. What kinds? According to the U.S. EPA website, there are specific types which can be, and others which cannot. Plastic grocery bags, Saran wraps and black plastic are not acceptable. Also, there must not be any food waste clinging to the item. Who knew? Aluminum foil and cans are valuable because they save considerable energy over producing the metal by electrolysis of bauxite ore. In an earlier life, I taught college chemistry students that a large percentage of the output of an electric power plant in Frederick, MD was consumed by an aluminum refinery nearby.

How many of us know anything about this? We’ve our all seen the TV ads about how the plastic bottles can be recycled into useful stuff. Unfortunately, nowhere near enough is being done to prevent whole sections of the oceans from being dumps of plastic waste. Recycling in most localities is voluntary. In places like New York City, it is mandatory. This came about late in the last century when Virginia stopped sccepting the city’s waste (Virginia is for lovers, or was it the Garbage State??). Sooner or later, we have to come to grips with solid waste; get serious about it. The planet is not getting any bigger.

While we’re (not) at it, we need to recapture CO2. The substance is acidifying oceans and destroying coral reefs, among other things. So what? Coral reefs mitigate storm surges, which have become increasingly deadly as the planet warms. The technology to do this currently exists, but is too expensive. So is extinction……

I often wonder whether our species is really capable of reversing some of the mess we have created. One hopeful precedent is the salvation of the ozone layer about a quarter century ago. Seems like chlorofluoro carbon compounds, widely used in air conditioners at that time, had decimated a layer of ozone, which filtered harmful ultraviolet light from the sun. The compounds were banned from use in many nations, and the layer seems to have restored itself. Yes, we can, so it would seem. Perhaps we can do this on a larger scale and save ourselves. But we need to start soon!

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