Opinion: Time to get a handle on trash

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Commentary by Ward Degler

We are drowning in a sea of trash. Our nation creates 250 million tons of refuse every year. Most of it goes into landfills, which are getting bigger every day.

According to a report by the Solid Waste Environmental Excellence Protocol, America may be headed toward a trash reckoning. The organization estimates that U.S. landfills will be completely full by 2029.

Recycling can do only so much and I read recently that plastic bags shouldn’t be recycled at all. That goes for a lot of other plastic, too, like those blister packs of nails, screws and tools we pick up at the hardware store. Late afternoon on Christmas Day tons of plastic packaging will find its way into our nation’s trash bins.

Recycling helps, especially with glass bottles and aluminum cans. There are machines that count your beer and soda cans and give you money in return.

In some states you pay a deposit on both cans and bottles and get your money back when you return them.  This is not a new concept, of course. As a kid I often walked along the country road picking up discarded bottles for pocket money. At 5 cents a pop, I could easily see two double features with popcorn and have an ice cream soda afterward every week.

Not everybody plays by the rules, however. California recently arrested three people who tried to smuggle 27,000 aluminum cans in from Arizona. The haul was worth $41,000 in refunds. Turns out the smugglers had already bilked the state out of $16.1 million during a three-year period. That’s a lot of cans.

Another enterprising gang wasn’t so lucky in Michigan. That state has a 10-cent deposit on aluminum cans, and these geniuses thought they could cash in by bringing a dump truck loaded with cans from out of state for refunds.

It never dawned on them that refundable cans in Michigan were stamped with ID numbers. They didn’t get arrested when they tried to unload the cans at the recycle center, however. They got arrested when, angry at being caught, they dumped the cans along the road while leaving town.

The solution to the trash problem won‘t be easy. We can ask for paper bags at the grocery store. Some stores have already stopped using plastic bags. We can keep cloth bags in our cars. That’s an even better idea, and most grocery stores sell them.

It’s an idea today. It will be a dire necessity tomorrow.

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