Earth Matters: Recycling reduces waste and is good for business

Environmental professionals, much like their counterparts in education, health care and social and emergency services, are often confronted with painful frustrations in the midst of rewarding work.

The great difficulties and unexpected rewards sometimes come at the same time. The last few weeks has been one such time for me.

Already struggling to fund our local recycling program, state funding for many environmental initiatives, transportation programs and public space projects has been threatened by larger scale budget challenges. This gave rise to a spirited public debate (both locally and across the state) over the value of a number of environmental programs and how we fund them.

The potential funding cuts were discouraging to both local governments charged with overseeing those programs and the folks who appreciate and take advantage of those services. Not having the recycling tradition of a place like State College or Bloomsburg (the state’s longest running recycling program), we feared nobody would pay particular attention to the possible loss of funding and the resulting reduction in recycling services.

Nothing could have been further from the truth! Phone calls, e-mails, letters to the editor and comments to the recycling office exceeded the feedback we have received on any topic to come before us in recent memory. Beyond local responses, we heard from statewide organizations like Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful and the retired director of recycling at Penn State’s University Park campus.

One of the many things that struck us was the support we heard from diverse groups of people. Just like the original passage of Pennsylvania’s recycling law, Act 101, in 1988, we saw that recycling was not a partisan issue among the general public and our local municipal government elected officials.

People of all political and demographic stripes seem to support recycling, composting and sound waste management practices. There are likely many reasons for this but I suspect there are two fundamental motivations. Most people have a deep local pride in keeping their community clean, green and beautiful. Additionally, many also see recycling and composting as easy, everyday actions that can help address large scale environmental challenges.

The Intermunicipal Relations Committee (who shepherds recycling efforts in Blair County) held its monthly public meeting this past week. This bipartisan support for recycling was clearly evident at the meeting as both a left-leaning Altoona resident and Republican elected officials voiced their support for recycling.

But if actions truly do speak louder than words, the success of our first two major “Zero Waste” events a week ago testifies even more to the eagerness of a broad spectrum of people to recycle and compost. As the Mirror (“IRC conducts test run,” Sept. 28), 300 people at the Blair County Conservation’s Farm2Fork dinner and Penn State Altoona’s Canal Jam at the Lemon House recycled and composted nearly 150 pounds of recyclables and food waste and biodegradable dinner ware. The two separate events generated a single bag of trash.

Clearly, it’s not a fringe activity done by only by hippies and far-left fanatics. Kids and grandparents, Democrats and Republicans, country folk and city dwellers, whites and blacks, couch potatoes and endurance athletes all recycle. They do it not just because it’s easy and reduces waste but because it’s good for business as well as the environment.

Check out ircenvironment.org for more on recycling and its benefits or call 814-942-7472 if your business would like to explore being part of the IRC’s food waste composting pilot program.

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