Remember back when it was so easy to be green? Fill your own containers at the Co-Op, compost the yard waste, separate the beer bottles by color...yeah.
You know why that was? Because back then we all lived a little closer, metaphorically speaking, to the point of origin, and everyday life was not as technologically supersaturated as it is now.
This isn't the 60's anymore. Not even the 70's. The ramifications of those early green choices are completely different now, in many cases. 'Green' means 'dollars' now, not just 'save the earth'.
Here's an example of what I mean:
I used to work in the cleanup and removal business. I've seen the end result of a lot of recycling operations. Once the valuable constituent- the chip or rare metal scrap or compressor tank or what have you has been harvested, the hulk-usually 80% of the mass- goes straight to the dump. Steel, aluminum and all. Plastics too. I was the one who took it there.
Yes, this is perfectly legal.
Ok, now let's say you decide to bust that appliance down yourself. A newer washing machine, say. With a chip. First of all, read up on those EPA regulations. And your covenant. And your zoning regulations. Now, separate and store:
- Scrap steel, stripped of coatings and fasteners, if those differ in makeup
- plastic, sorted by type (can you tell the difference?)
- cadmium coated parts removed and stored for later pickup +transport cost
- hazardous wastes removed and stored for later pickup+transport cost
- rare metals set aside by type (less than 1% of the total mass)
- glass, if any, sorted by type and color (pyrex and other safety glasses are not recyclable)
- unrecyclable synthetics set aside for later safe disposal (more of these than you'd think)
- copper, stripped of coating and fasteners etc.
- aluminum, stripped of coatings and fasteners etc.
Assuming you don't live in an industrial district, your local rare and non-ferrous metals reclamation point will be some miles away. With the cost of gas at 4.00 per gallon, is it worth your while to bring in .0o8 grams of platinum (or gold, or silver, or irridium or...)? Probably not. Store it up until you get enough to make it worth your while?
Over the course of your lifetime you will NOT consume enough to make it worth even a tank of gas.
There's a lot of steel (see fig. A) in a major appliance. The price of scrap steel is a variable...generally fairly low. Where do you store all that metal until you have enough to make a trip pay for itself? And by 'pay for itself', I mean, break even on the expense of operating the transport vehicle. You don't get paid for your time.
Do you have a truck? Because you'll need one. (Unless you hired me.) And a materials storage permit (and all the buildings and other infrastructure in place to comply with that permit) and a hazardous materials handling and storage permit, and a non-restrictive covenant, and a largish piece of property...
You live in an apartment?
Until I worked in the business, I had no clue either. I thought someone took that stuff and it ALL got broken down and went back into the raw materials stream.
This is they way you have to think now, from the smallest nicad battery to your family automobile. Simply choosing to recycle has a whole new host of attendant considerations than when it just meant 'separate your paper'. And recycling is only one small part of the 'green' equation!
The biggest mistake I see people making is assuming that anything described as 'Green' is automatically the sounder ecological choice. It simply isn't. These days, 'Green', as used by corporate America, has as much legal and semantic meaning as the term 'Guaranteed' does.
America and the market are very different places now. Minimizing your impact on the environment is no longer simply a matter of riding public transit or composting your yard waste. There are a million more technological layers between the market and raw materials now.
The very first thing you should do is go out there and learn what 'green' really means these days.
What the consequences of your choices will be.
Prepare to be appalled.
This post by Inner Voices would be an excellent place to start.
WHAT DO THE VOICES MEAN: go green!!
Well fucking done, Voices!!
Folks, THIS is why we blog.