'My Town,' by Bob Emery
I was on duty as a reserve park ranger on the Fourth of July in Old Poway Park. I have written before about the crowds that pack the park to ride the train, listen to patriotic music, eat hot dogs and wave the flag. This year was no exception, the place was overflowing. However, I had a couple of encounters with revelers that raised some questions about recycling in Poway, and who is responsible for recycling what.
An agitated gentleman approached me and pointed to a woman who was going through a blue recycling container and taking out bottles and cans. He said, “She’s stealing those cans, can you stop her?”
I explained that enforcement was not part of our assignment and at least the cans and bottles were being recycled and that was our ultimate goal. This didn’t satisfy the man and he walked away stating, “It’s still stealing.” Later, a woman pointed out the same offense but was, at least partially satisfied with my response.
But it made me think — whose responsibility is recycling, who gets the proceeds from the CRV deposit we pay at the grocery store for certain bottled and canned drinks, if you take things from a recycling bin are you stealing, if you take items to a recycling center where does the money come from for reimbursement?
I approached the city with these questions and here is some of what I learned: Money from the CRV deposits goes into two funds at the state level, one for reimbursing people who turn in CRV-eligible containers at recycling stations and the other fund goes to waste and recycling companies based on the tonnage of recyclables they divert from landfills. Of the diversion funds paid to waste haulers (in Poway’s case, EDCO), 10 percent goes to the City of Poway as part of the franchise agreement between the city and EDCO.
This all seemed quite cut and dried, but it’s not. What about recyclables that are in regular trash cans? What about recyclables that are in blue containers but are mixed with garbage dumped by unthinking individuals? The answer here is this, if recyclables are mixed with regular trash, they go to the landfills and are never recycled. Cities and other agencies have neither the funds nor the manpower to sort garbage and extract recyclables so it all goes into the landfills.
What can be done about this? Most people, when faced with an opportunity to recycle, will do so. When approaching a blue bin, and a garbage can side by side, people will recycle bottles and cans and dump garbage in the trash can. But, when they have no choice, people will dump everything in the nearest container, no matter what color it is, thus ensuring that everything will go to a landfill.
As a result of discussions with the city and a representative of EDCO Waste and Recycling, Poway is going to make a concerted effort to give people a choice in our parks at major events such as the Fourth of July, the summer concerts, etc. EDCO generously offered free recycling containers to be placed next to trash containers during these events so people will have a choice. A good start.
Back to the original question posed to me on the Fourth: Was the woman “stealing?” Technically, she was scavenging and taking cans and bottles that might have been recycled. In reality, she probably caused more items to be recycled than would have been and made a few bucks on the side. The best way to make certain items are recycled is to do it ourselves. Be a conscientious recycler, make the effort.
Emery is a retired teacher and form Poway City Council member.