by Lois Quenneville
So am I the only one wondering why I am still buried under piles of paper after they (oh no, the infamous “THEY”) promised us in the 1970’s that paper would be a thing of the past by 2000? I guess they did predict correctly how much of our correspondence would eventually morph into texting, tweeting, face-booking, googling, etc. And in truth, most business policies, procedures, manuals, accounting, banking, shopping, dating, etc. is online -so well, OK, I guess “THEY” were right. I only have myself to blame for my paper hoarding tendencies. I always make paper copies of anything sent to me electronically. Defeats the purpose, I know. But as I am pretty sure that I am going to accidently erase everything off my computer or phone (seems to be an almost annual event), I only feel safe if I have a paper copy that I can then file somewhere where I will never find it again.
According to the EPA (who, by the way, has come out with its 2017 data- thank you very much!), the actual amount of paper products going into the land fill has decreased, thanks in part to so much information now being digitalized AND better recycling efforts. We only threw away 67 million tons of paper/paper products in 2017 compared to about 85 million tons in 2005, so that’s good (although millions of tons still sound bad to me). That 67 million tons made up about 25% of all our residential trash, or as we are learning to call it, the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Of that, we recycled more than 44 million tons- most of that cardboard, as I mentioned in my previous article.
So what other paper products get recycled? Newspaper is a good one and has been recycling for just about forever. Remember the good ol’ days of the Paper Drive back in the ‘60s? Ok, most of you don’t remember that far back, but believe me- it was super exciting! Every school would participate and each grade would compete against each other for the coveted Annual Paper Drive Trophy. On Paper Drive day, parents would pull up to the school in their giant station wagons or VW microbuses, filled full of a collection of 365 days of national and local news. The students would unload the vehicles and pile the papers to the sky and the class that had the biggest pile won! What we wouldn’t do for a little recognition. The city would come later that day and buy it from the school and haul it all away to be recycled. My class, I am happy to tell you, would invariably win because I was a Paper Girl and always had some papers left over from my route every day. No, I DIDN’T miss throwing to any of my customers; it’s just that the Houston Chronicle always gave us a few extra papers IN CASE we messed up. Not that that ever happened to me! Yup, had my own route and I’d fold, tie and deliver the Houston Chronicle on my bicycle every day after school with help on Sundays from my siblings and mom (the Sunday paper would weight about 15 pounds and didn’t fit into my bicycle racks). I’m not sure when I quite that job. Probably when I got old enough to get a job that made real money, like babysitting.
Newspaper. Yep, that’s still a keeper. Other paper products that can be easily recycled and are accepted at our local Memphis Recycling Center are: newspaper inserts (if it feels slick, throw it in the bin with the magazines), office paper, envelopes (you don’t have to remove the plastic address windows), yellow/orange paper mailers (watch out, they’ve got some plastic ones that look just like the paper mailers), magazines, construction paper, school notebook paper and books (you’ve got to remove the cover and binding and throw that away). Also shredded office paper (if you don’t have to shred paper, don’t- it’s worth more intact). If any of the paper products have gotten wet or turned tan or brown colored or are dirty, you’ve got to throw those away as they can’t be reused in making paper. And, just like cardboard, other paper products don’t recycle indefinitely either. Tissue paper (either the kind you blow your nose in, or the kind you hide presents under), paper towels, napkins, poster board and the brown paper grocery bags are all at the end of their wood pulp journey and ultimately end up as trash in the landfill or burned. Other products like photo paper, animal food bags, flour and sugar bags, paper cups and plates- basically anything designed to be waterproof- these products have a slick plastic or metal micro-thin finish to them that will mess up the recycling process. Another paper product to avoid putting in your recycling bin is stationary or cards that have any metal/glitter/plastic on them- not good for the recycling process either.
Again, landfill BAD, recycle GOOD. I know I’ve given you a lot of information over the past several months, but don’t worry, it’s only going to get worse. Because we are going to tackle PLASTIC next! Run for your lives! You think I drone on now, you just wait as I attempt to lead you through the maze of Polyethylene Terephthalate, Polyvinyl Chloride, Polystyrene, Poly what-ever…
So best of luck in all your efforts in the New Year! Remember, your decisions count. Pay attention to what you are doing. Refuse to buy products which have excessive packaging or are not recyclable. Reduce the amount of trash you are producing by reducing the amount of stuff you buy. Reuse and repair the products you have. (I am so proud of my husband! He took apart a vacuum cleaner that obviously was designed to be thrown away once its rechargeable battery died. He soldered in a new battery and we were good to go!). Repurpose items that can no longer be used for their original purpose, like old T-shirts into dog toys, or old cutlery into jewelry. There were numerous wonderfully creative repurposed items for sale at our recent local Christmas Bazaar. And if all else fails, make the effort and take advantage of recycling opportunities. Let’s make landfills a thing of the past and keep those trash bins empty!