I am by no means a tree hugger, and I do not spend my vacations on Green Peace boats attempting to thwart baby Seal culls or Whale hunts. In fact I am your regular dude. I like plastic bags to carry my groceries in, plastic has many advantages over paper, if something leaks in a plastic bag, nothing bad happens, that is not the case with paper, the contents find themselves on the sidewalk and you feel frustrated!

I have no problem with re-cycling, in fact I encourage it. My recent move to Mississippi though, has shown me that my ideas are not shared by everyone. Soda and Beer cans are thrown in the trash, as are the ubiquitous 2 liter pop bottle, glass bottles meet the same treatment, they are put in the trash. In Alberta, they had an innovative idea, give these items an intrinsic value by way of charging a deposit. 10 cents a beer can, 5 cents a soda can, 20 cents for a 2 liter pop bottle, even a glass bottle gets a 5 cent levy.

No one makes a dime off this levy, you can get your money back by taking the items to a recycling depot, the objects are sorted and counted, and you get your money back. Aluminum, plastic, and glass are easily recycled. Yet in their finished, and sold form they represent items that have a life span of thousands of years in the landfills.

Here in Mississippi there is no reason to recycle, yes you can take aluminum cans to a depot, but the price paid for empty cans does not even cover the cost of gas to take them there. I have yet to even find somewhere that will even talk about recycling plastic or glass bottles. The result is that almost all of these reusable raw materials end up as a problem, rather than an opportunity. Instead of these items becoming new raw materials they are instead mere fodder for the landfills. They are a liability rather than an asset.

Another downside is that because there is no reason to recycle you see empty cans and bottles on the local sidewalks and drainage ditches, an eye sore and potentially a danger to children and wildlife.

Much hot air is expended on talking about global warming, and the destruction of our planet, yet little is being done to prevent it. What must happen is for the government to step in and provide those incentives. A levy on cans and plastic soda bottles might cause some to be disgruntled, a 6 pack of beer would cost an extra 60 cents, but now you would have a 60 cent reason to recycle. Those 60 cents though add up, stick the empty cans in a garbage bag, and when the bag is full you likely will have a $15 bounty.

There are other side benefits, with empty cans and bottles having value people are less likely to litter them, and those cans that are still discarded on the side of the road may well be picked up by someone else. In Calgary it was rare to see bottle and cans laying around, and those that were dropped by tourists or residents were quickly scooped up by others. For more than 6 years I ran a Computer Learning Center aimed at the homeless and low income sector, I operated out of a very large homeless center, I knew several ‘professional’ recyclers, they even had a nickname ‘bottle pickers’, they would scour the city early in the morning picking up their 5 or 10 cent bounty. On a good day a couple of hours of work would bring in $30 or $40, enough to buy a couple of good meals and other comforts.

One person in particular stands out in my mind, Chico. I got to know him quite well, I interviewed him for an article that I wrote about homelessness. Chico was completely self sufficient, when last I saw him he had taken up residence in the basement of a commercial building being renovated, he had heat, a small stove, a BBQ, and even a TV! All financed entirely on his daily quest for discarded aluminum cans. Now I am not suggesting for one minute that Chico’s lifestyle is what we should all quest for, but because of him and his fellow recyclers there are few cities as clean as Calgary.

Wake up folks, lets get re-cycling.

Simon Barrett


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