Editorial: A good idea, recycled

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 1, 2009

North Carolinians recycle fewer than one in five plastic bottles, according to state environmental officials. Starting Thursday, that’s got to change.
A state law banning plastic bottles from landfills goes into effect Oct. 1 ó a law intended more to nudge citizens toward better environmental practices than to police their trash. Considering how hard it is to change human behavior, the ban will be only as successful as people want it to be. Widespread commitment is a must.
Recycling, after all, has been around a long time. The “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra dates back decades, yet here we are in the 21st century, trying to reteach lessons we should have learned the first time around. It makes complete sense to take plastic bottles and other recyclables out of the waste stream flooding our landfills. The material can be reused to make something else and burn less energy in the process. It also creates jobs in the recycling business. Yet what sounds so good in theory still doesn’t pass the practicality test for people who find it easier to toss ’em into the trash.
Can a state law succeed where personal commitment so far has faltered? If municipal recycling programs are a gauge of public attitudes, don’t bet on it. Towns like China Grove and Granite Quarry have dropped curbside recycling, and Salisbury thought about it long and hard. Officials blame rising costs and limited resources, but if participation were high, elected leaders would never consider dropping curbside recycling. Granite Quarry had less than 10 percent participation in its curbside program.
Maybe it’s time for a do-over, with the plastics ban triggering renewed commitment.
We have nowhere to go but up. According to the state, Rowan Countians recycled about 2.8 pounds of plastic bottles per capita in 2007-08. Cabarrus’ rate was 3.67 pounds per person. Neither is impressive when you consider it takes about 15 empty, 20-ounce bottles to make up a pound. So Rowan recycled about 42 small drink bottles per person in a year’s time.
Neighboring Davie County did much better ó 10.48 pounds per person. And Orange County, a hotbed of environmental awareness, recycled 29.42 pounds of plastic bottles per person.
The law applies to recyclable rigid plastic containers whose neck is smaller than the body and is closed with a screw top, cap or other closure. That includes soda and water bottles, milk jugs, detergent jugs ó but not motor oil bottles. Also joining the list of banned items are oil filters and wooden pallets.
If you have not been recycling, it’s time to start. Put the “conserve” in conservative and stop sending recyclables to the landfill.