Recycled Ideas | Letters | Chicago Reader

Recycled Ideas 

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To the editors:

As a fan of Harold Henderson's epic Reader articles of the past, it seems his editors may have severely chopped "Blue Bags, Red Flags" (6/15/01). Unless Mr. Henderson happens to be in full agreement with the unbalanced view of recycling espoused by the book he reviewed (Urban Recycling and the Search for Sustainable Community Development), the article completely neglects all challenges. Sadly, the piece is reminiscent of one published several years ago by the New York Times that prompted a national backlash against the newspaper and the author of the skewed article. These views pop up every so often and serve as catalyst for reexamination. Unfortunately, they do little to reinforce public participation in recycling programs. They certainly do not help improve an already apathetic recycling rate.

Recycling does have a net environmental benefit! This issue has been studied and the facts are available to Mr. Henderson and Mr. Schnaiberg. For every ton of paper recycled as opposed to using virgin feedstock, paper mills conserve 7,000 gallons of water and 17 trees. Full-cost, multimaterial accounting studies illustrate the point further.

Mr. Schnaiberg's wishy-washy approach to his own participation in the blue bag program is telling. Perhaps he would feel more empowered if he used one of two phenomenal Resource Center drop-off centers not far from his home. The fact is Chicagoans have an opportunity to recycle, yet many

are focused on driving to the nearest disposable diaper retail outlet.

We are a society of consumers.

Surely, it is industry which must do more to reduce waste and recycle more. Waste reduction has always been seen as more desirable than recycling. We need to figure out ways to simply use less and buy recycled content products. When I empty a beautifully clear plastic bottle of Ocean Spray, it seems the bottle has more value than the juice it holds! Yet more than 75 percent of those bottles end up in landfills. Half of Reader newspapers are not recycled. The aluminum can recycling rate hovers at 61 percent. In this country, we discard enough aluminum to rebuild the entire U.S. commercial airline fleet every three months.

Note to Reader staff: When will you be available on-line? Are you waiting for the price of paper to rise? Urban Recycling is available only as a cloth hardcover at $35, yet should be a free download formatted as an electronic book. I believe the esteemed authors would agree.

Keith Bell

Program Developer

Recycling Programs, Inc.

Harold Henderson replies:

The editors are in the clear. I am at fault for neglecting to exhort the populace. As for the Reader, its on-line archive is expected to launch soon.

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