recycling containers

Recycling trash cans separate waste in Natal, Brazil.

I bristle at any attempt to socially engineer me into being a better person. I’m a lost cause, and you really don’t want me pulling the benefit of the common good down with me.

Grant me a mini-rant about recycling, however.

Since the late 1980s, I’ve sat in the audience before town councils and county commissions that almost inevitably approved fees on customers for curbside recycling. Mostly it was for a vocal few in the community who wanted it, and the rest of us paid up, too.

I remember it was a crisis, but I don't recall a shortage of landfill space, and it seemed like a job-creator to build more, but what do I know. An open recycling bin on a public street on a windy day seems like a poor way to keep plastic out of the environment, but what do I know.

Not even EarthDay.org can say the past 30-odd years have paid off. 

“Recycling feels good,” the planet’s chief celebrants wrote in 2019. “It seemingly gives us power to control our own habits for the benefit of our planet. We can even call people out for not recycling (shame!), reinforcing our own green behavior.

“But that feel-good sentiment might just be a placebo effect. Sure, recycling beats throwing something right in the trash, but tons of our recyclables still end up in landfills or oceans (literally, tons), making a mess of ecosystems.”

Solving the problem after the sale hasn't made much of a difference. The U.S. still only recycles about 9% of the plastic we pay for. 

This is going to be fixed with money, even though we're constantly told what savings come from doing things right. That would be nice. We'll each have to decide if it's worth it, but we will all have to pay, one way or another.

Monday, Boulder County announced a pilot program to help reduce food and beverage packaging.

The program will teach manufacturers and retailers to wrap their products in less stuff and make the stuff they use friendlier to the environment. In Boulder County, those who take the course could get a government grant up to $10,000 to help cover the switch, along with technical support from experts and an evaluation of the cost and benefits.

Less is more, if we're talking about cost.

Lawmakers this session passed a 10-cent fee on plastic bags statewide starting on Jan. 1, 2023. The same law bans foam plastic containers for takeout food in 2024. 

The government gets to keep 6 cents, and the business gets to keep the other 4 cents per bag to put signs, train checkers, give out free reusable bags or whatever.

That's "at least" 10 cents, I should note. The state law allows cities and counties to charge a higher fee, if they'd like.

Denver began charging for plastic bags on July 1, joining Basalt, Boulder and Durango, which were already in the game.

The capital city expects to cut plastic bags in half, plus, not coincidentally, collect $4 million for the city and another $2.5 million for retailers. As a bonus, the retailers' share isn't subject to sales tax, even though they're selling bags.

Republicans threw 23 unsuccessful amendments at House Bill 1162, including moving back the implementation date, adding disposable diapers to the list and creating a tax rebate for small businesses.

In the same session, Democrats added $3.9 billion in fees over the next decade on nearly everything that moves — gas and electric vehicles, deliveries, ride shares — to put money in electric vehicles and transit, so why not pay at the grocery store, too?

We're going to change our ways or pay for the privilege, which was always the point.

Since 2015, stores in England with more than 250 employees have charged 5 pence, about 8 cents, for a plastic bag and were allowed to keep the windfall, presumably for charity, but without enforcement.

On the up side, plastic bag use plummeted, so as an encore the UK doubled it to 10 pence and extended it to all retailers.

The solution, though, has always been at the store. They're the ones who switched from paper bags to save money.

Moreover, they hand out way too many bags in lieu of an efficient operation. Americans use 100 billion bags a year, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

My pantry has plastic bags stuffed with plastic bags. If time is money, you're going to chip in plenty in line behind bickering over too many or too few bags.

With government to blame, brand companies will ride the feel-good wave and inch up their prices. That's why you don't hear them complaining.

Last month, 100 major interests  — including Walmart, Coca-Cola, Clorox, Molson Coors, Target and other household names — signed the U.S. Plastics Pact, pledging to make packaging “reusable, recyclable or compostable.” 

They say they can get there by 2025.

There's a catch: The pact signers want a tax on food wrappers and containers that manufacturers and consumer brands would keep to pay for recycling.

That’s a fine basket of carrots. The sticks are for you and me. 

For you and me, it's a sneaky tax that, admittedly, does our planet some good, and nobody ever said virtue signaling is cheap or painless.

It just feels like 1988 all over again.

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