Let’s Talk Recycling- off the beaten track
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD, BCHN, BCIH
I am of the generation that from grade school on we were spoon fed the importance of recycling. The “Give a Hoot Don’t Pollute” slogan was on television and handouts from school. We saw the commercial where a lone tear slipped from the Native American elder man’s eye when viewing the landfills, polluted waterways, and soot-filled skies.
I very much believe in the biblical premise of being a good steward of the land, that includes being responsible when it comes to trash. I get annoyed when I see lazy motorists toss their trash along our beautiful rivers, campgrounds and roadways. It is disrespectful to every resident of any given state.
Some will argue it is because the landfills are closed or that there is a fee for use. Now this got me to thinking about several conversations I had recently had with folks about recycling and its value. I find it odd that some believe they are a good steward of the land by recycling – yet they have no understanding of how little recycling happens in landfills.
In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency reported municipal solid waste produced by American households, businesses and hospitals amounted to 243 million tons of trash or roughly 4.3 lbs. per person per day. The generous EPA estimates 50% of the waste was recycled by municipal landfills. Of this amount, 34 million tons are of uneaten food thrown in the garbage. The EPA estimated 3% of this was composted and utilized. Since these numbers were published in 2009, the volume has gone up considerably. Research students from the University of Utah estimate we are now at 28 billion pounds of food discarded per year, and less than 3% of the total refuse sent to the landfill recycled – even if you put it into those nice blue bins at the curb.
According to a report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around $1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. When this figure is converted to calories, it means about 24% of all calories currently produced for human consumption are wasted. In a world full of hunger, volatile food prices, and social unrest, these statistics are more than just shocking: they are morally and economically outrageous.
My arguments are for “reusable” and composting. Personally, I think the modern recycle movement is all about feeling good and little to do with saving the planet. I have been someone who cans, freezes and dries produce and meats for my family’s use. It occurred to me this fall I had been using the same canning jars for over 30 years, eliminating mountains of garbage by not participating in the modern trend to buy those nifty single-serve packages or processed foods in general.
Now before you respond with, “but you have time to do all that stuff,” I would like to remind you of past generations; my grandmother worked outside the home as did millions of American women during the depression and war years. These individuals put in 12-hour days building ships and planes then went home and took care of their families. They cooked the majority of their food from scratch, bought in bulk to save money and from local merchants. They were the queens of re-use and recycled; they had to be. The average household spent 35% of their income on food in 1937, 29.7% in the 1950’s and today it is roughly 12.9%.
Now granted, we have higher taxes, but our inflation levels are very close to what they were during the depression. Our incomes have increased by over 200% from the 1930’s, yet our health as a nation is listed as some of the worst in the world. Add to this the decline in morals and values. I cannot help but once again come back to the quality of our food we consume as a primary contributor to the mental and physical health mess we are in today.
Not pertinent to today’s standards you might think – here is one for you: My hairdresser has two teenage children, is a single mother with health challenges. She and her family spend their days off picking produce to take home and can for the winter. She puts in a 10-hour day at work, then spends several hours prepping and canning with her children so they will have quality foods to eat during the winter and save on their already stretched finances. It is about priorities, values and willingness to work.
So just maybe we should quit doing all these feel good environmental programs that camouflage our wastefulness, and return to real values that were intrinsically beneficial to our environment, our health and the foundation of our pioneer culture.
To your good health through food independence and nutrition.