by Tricia Dameron
City living definitely has its perks. One perk I'm enjoying since we moved to inner-OKC a mere three weeks ago has been curbside recycling. What a treat! Previously we lived in an unincorporated area and had to haul our recycling to a drop-off center during Saturday morning errands. Everything had to be sorted and it was common for the dumpsters to be overflowing with recyclables, resulting in us carting our waste back to the house.
Today is trash day in my new neighborhood and as I made my way to the office, I pondered the missing "Little Blues" at many of my neighbors' curbs. I cannot comprehend why someone would opt out of curbside recycling. Because of my various residences, taking recycling to drop-off centers has always been a highly regarded pain in the butt. Comparatively, curbside recycling is a luxury. As of July 2009 26 percent of OKC trash customers set out their "Little Blue" every week and 52 percent of the same participate in curbside recycling, according to Mark Jordan at Recycle America. Perhaps you're asking yourself, "What is the difference between set-out rate and participation rate?" I'm not clear on that yet, but check back for more information in the comments.
I wish Oklahoma City had a residential pay-as-you-throw program. I recycle and compost without financial incentive, but it would nice (and logical) to pay less when I use less (landfill space), as it is with gas, electricity, and city water. For $16.23/month, you can fill two 90-gallon "Big Blue" containers per week. A third 90-gallon cart costs an additional $2.76/month. I can request a smaller cart, but I'll pay the same if I dispose 7 gallons or 180 gallons of waste per week. I wonder if there has been any correlation between pay-as-you-throw programs and multiplying illegal dump sites?
Recycling can also be incentivized by container deposit legislation (also called a "bottle bill"), which requires a refundable deposit on beverage containers. Seven states with bottle bills studied litter rates and found a substantial reduction in beverage container litter. Oklahoma Department of Transportation spends $3.5 million/year cleaning up litter along state highways. A 1998 litter survey found beverage containers to be the fourth highest source of litter in Oklahoma.
Iowa, with land area and population comparable to Oklahoma, enacted a bottle bill in 1978. If Iowa can do it, why can't Oklahoma? Several attempts to enact a bottle bill have failed in the Oklahoma Legislature. In 2008 a measure creating a task force to simply study container deposit legislation didn't even get a committee hearing.
Spending taxes to pick up litter will never cure the problem. And burying reusable materials — materials that save money, energy and natural resources — comes straight from pages of "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," by Jared Diamond. Both practices seem antithetical to the fiscally conservative values of the political majority here in Oklahoma.