You have to hand it to libertarian writer John Tierney. He doesn’t give up easily. His long-winded 1996 article, “Recycling Is Garbage,” allegedly smashed the New York Times Magazine‘s hate-mail record. It covered the same ground as his recent New York Times op-ed, “The Reign of Recycling,” stating: “Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.”
Is recycling really “the most wasteful activity in modern America?” That’s quite a charge. (What about all that Kardashian coverage?) But it may be true that it would be cheaper to put all our waste in a hole someplace and forget about it. Assuming, as Tierney does, that there are enough conveniently located holes. It would be even cheaper to use the medieval method of tossing it in the street.
Imagine being a waste worker sorting through trash for recyclables with only tattered gardening gloves and being pricked by a used hypodermic needle. Under the current conditions of many recycling companies, you would be told, “Get back to work” and simply have to bandage your wound – sometimes with pieces of paper from a pile of trash. And if you tried to talk with your boss about your fear of spreading illness from the needle to your family or friends, you are immediately fired. This is a true story of a former trash sorter – who was also considered a temporary employee – at a trash sorting facility in Los Angeles.
This story – of gross negligence and denial of company responsibility for basic worker health and safety protections – is too common a reality in low-wage industries. Bill Raden and Gary Cohn covered the plight of temporary workers in the food processing industry in a Capital &
Imagine walking outside and breathing fresh air instead of today’s exhaust. Imagine taking your lunch scraps to a compost bin while a modern trash truck makes its way down your street. And then imagine the convenience of tossing your recyclables into a blue bin, and knowing that this has lowered your trash bill while helping the environment.
Los Angeles is on track to becoming a national environmental leader with its landmark Zero Waste LA system, which covers waste and recycling collection for apartments and businesses. In April, the Zero Waste LA policy was adopted by Los Angeles’ City Council. The system will carve out 11 exclusive waste franchise zones that will reduce truck traffic and increase recycling and composting – with three of the zones designed to incubate small waste haulers’ growing businesses and protecting long-term competition.
The next step — the Request for Proposals, or RFP — was just approved by the Board of Public Works on June 11,
Many of us try to be diligent about putting our empty bottles and cans in the blue recycling bin, but what do we do with our apple peels and coffee grounds? Can our lunch leftovers impact the air we breathe and the local economy?
All too often, these food scraps end up in a landfill, where they decompose and emit dangerous levels of methane — a greenhouse gas considered 21 times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide. Businesses and residents from the City of Los Angeles send approximately 1.2 million tons of food scraps and yard waste into landfills each year, equivalent to the weight of 600,000 automobiles. Such compostable “organic” material forms nearly a third of California’s landfilled waste.
Recycling instead of landfilling our organic materials only improves our environment, it creates jobs. The Tellus Institute calculated that recovering and recycling our organic materials creates nearly twice the number of jobs as when the same materials are disposed.
Over 200 Oakland recycling workers staged a powerful show of unity and action by striking on Tuesday, July 30. Employees from the city’s two recycling contractors – Waste Management and California Waste Solutions (CWS) – walked off their jobs midway through the morning shift.
Then, instead of picketing in remote industrial areas where the recycling plants are located, workers formed caravans that converged downtown at Oakland’s City Hall. The result was a full day of political action and solidarity that included marches, “human billboards” along Broadway and 14th Street, visits with local and state elected officials, and a spirited rally. The day ended where rally participants – including many community allies – filled the upper seats of the City Council chambers and addressed the City Council that evening.
Recycling worker Emanuel San Gabriel is one of CWS workers who left his dusty and noisy workplace behind to join the protest.