Op-Ed: Let’s talk about recycling | Editorials


My grandfather was a farmer on Murray Lane in Brentwood. He never made a trip to a recycling center. His milk container was a cow. They lived comfortably with a hand-cranked milk separator. No electricity. They had a thunder cup in the room and a two hole 30 feet behind the house. Kitchen scraps were “returned” to the large vegetable garden or fed to the pigs.

The US military even paid a visit. Because Brentwood’s terrain resembled Germany, they had maneuvers in its wheat field. These guys packed their bags and got ready for the Normandy beaches. Grandpa said they left the pitch “clean as a whistle”. The extended home is still there with brick veneer and a three-car garage.

When you or I order a box of chocolate and it’s delivered by Amazon Prime, here’s what happens. They wrap each bite in two layers of paper, then a cardboard box, then stuff it in a double layer of padded plastic, put it in a truck that travels 3 miles one way to your house (think pollution from air) and leaves you more disposable than product (think recycling).

The packaging industry “does it in the United States or for the United States”. Right now our solution is to “disappear”. God has a very good plan called “from dust to dust”. Nails rust, wood rots, water evaporates, faeces enrich the soil and trees purify the air. Then Adam and Eve came forward with plastic and wrappers.

At home, we have a plan. We place empty bags of horse grain in the floor of the smokehouse in a rack made of recycled wood pallets to sort 1. glass, 2. tin cans, 3. aluminum cans, 4. paper , 5. small cardboard and 6. plastic. Oh, there’s more! The attractive silver metal pot with lid holds kitchen scraps which are then turned under the leaves to make compost. From there we produce the richest black soil for the tomato garden. Now, to talk about the unspeakable — the garbage piling up behind the white picket fence. Our waste is dry and odorless. We have two families on the property and we take the Dodge Ram 1500 to the convenient Thompson (TS) station entrance to drop off recyclables, garbage and limbs, carpentry shop trash, and cartons.

To empty our hands of our waste, we need an efficient organization. Ah ha! The government!?!? Someone who is in a position to know told me that we who go to the TS convenience store don’t sort as well as those in Grassland. I am ready to be offended. Apparently a higher percentage of our TS waste exists in recycling at TS. We also don’t sort. Oops …

College Grove is worse. For all of us, I think that’s true because we’re underinformed.

Let me tell you something I saw at the TS Convenience Center. A man stuffed a good sized plastic table into the plastic collection compactor. When the button was pressed, the machine jammed and it took a lot of effort for attendants to remove it. Suitable items for the plastic container are plastic bottles and jugs. That’s it…bottles and carafes. Anything with a neck. Bottles and carafes represent 95% of the plastic that passes through your household. The remaining 5% should go in the trash, even if it’s plastic. That 5% would never fill a landfill.

The worst product of all is the one we have the most – the devil’s own creation – plastic grocery bags. We use it more than anything else. I pick them up along the road in front of the house. They blow through car windows.

I have a solution. The county should impose a 50-cent-per-bag tax on all checkout counters, i.e. groceries, drugs, hardware and fast food. Either we paid the tax or remembered to bring a reusable bag from the car. Right now, these bags are polluting our rivers and oceans and blocking recycling machines. This money would be used by the county for recycling expenses.

To sort the cardboard, there is a test. Tear the small, thin boxes. If it’s all white, it’s paper. If the center is brown, it’s cardboard. If it has a silver lining, it’s a trash can.

To sort the paper:

• Magazines are made of paper

• Newspapers are paper

• Calendars are paper

• Ice cream cartons are made of paper

• Ice cream box lids with plastic rims are waste

• Paper plates with a rough surface are made of paper

• Glossy and stiff papers are paper

Currently, only 10% of us sort and deliver to convenience stores. According to Wikipedia, we create 4.4 books of “stuff” per person, per day. One day, the adjacent counties may cease to be our dump, so we may need to create a dump near you. There are three landfills in Williamson County. I can take you to a beautiful place on the west side of Nashville where I threw my “stuff” in the 1960s and beyond. It was the official site. It is now a housing estate. The city of Franklin (240,000 inhabitants) has 14 convenience stores. My handheld calculator can’t multiply 240,000 times 4.4 pounds a day!

Of the 132 books per month that we each create, only 7 books are recycled. One step forward is to reduce the volume of packaging. Please help me with this! I’m not one to like government action interfering in my life. BUT …

Our local government and the State of Tennessee are considering a partial solution. A great idea floating around right now would be to set up accessible recycling collection sites near our busiest intersections where most of us travel for shopping and/or work. For example, in the center of Franklin, Cool Springs, Brentwood or Spring Hill, these sites would be chic and attractive. These would be deposits in front of the stores, no garbage cans in the parking lot. As a result, the volume of recycling would increase and waste would be reduced. As is now the case, you can continue to subscribe to a pickup at your home. Footnote: Garbage, metal, and tree branches would go to current convenience stores.

My interest in this topic was sparked years ago in a single day. I was on a canoe trip with over 50 other canoeists. This day was a “cleaning trip” on Mill Creek in Nashville. Just below the Thompson Lane bridge we found the body of a VW car. The engine and transmission were gone. Can you imagine the difficulty of moving it with two canoes? We were doing! Anyway, we had planned a dump truck to transport the items we had collected. My recent trips of this type, including the Harpeth River through downtown Franklin, have found conditions quite pleasant. I’m glad to be able to say that. A good thing is that the metal of this VW could be part of your new car.

Why not eliminate all those cartons and plastic bottles from store shelves and replace them with glass bottles? It may be that we (the public) would be better served if there was a reusable glass container for mayonnaise that Kraft and other manufacturers use with a tin lid. So ! Look at the volume of “stuff” we just eliminated. A reusable jar and a recyclable lid! This could be done with many (if not all) products, such as ketchup, spices, juices, coffee, salt, and broth. Why should they go through a chemical process to create packaging every time we decide to buy an item from a store?

Open your fridge and look at the possibilities. Now go to the pickle section of the grocery store and find the 24 ounce jar of Vlasic Bread & Butter Crisps (one of my favorites). The jar has a wide opening for easy access to food. For the purposes of this article, it would be easily rinsed off.

Go to your pantry and see the possibilities, i.e. soup, broth, pink salmon, milk, green beans, mustard and seasonings. Go to your bathroom medicine cabinet and use your imagination. If a pot is broken, just melt it down and reshape it. No chemicals needed. The bottles would be a standard shape in many sizes, i.e. 1 or 2 gallon milk bottles, medicine bottles (all glass) in many sizes. Call it “standardization”. We could drop off these bottles at our new collection site right downtown. They could be returned to the product supplier for reuse.

On January 17, 2022, Eastman (remember Kodak cameras?) of New York announced a $1 billion investment in France for a material-to-material molecular recycling facility. Currently, these countries (more populous than us) are burning it (air pollution). This Eastman process would create a virgin-grade plastic material with a significantly lower carbon footprint. This should be operational in 2025.

I have been informed that the new signage campaign for the TS convenience store has resulted in improved sorting. Now we are as good as Grassland. Thanks to a signage scheme, other collection centres, such as Bethesda, Chapel Hill, Southhall and Trinity, are also doing better.

Know that I am truly a capitalist, but sometimes a businessman’s ambition is not in the best interests of this great nation. In a free society, it is better for the public to realize that there is a problem and then a solution. Let’s be part of the solution to make things better for all of us! Ultimately, with personal initiative, we need to recycle more and conserve our landfill space!


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