State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

It's Time to Talk Trash

by on January 13, 2015 11:25 AM

By the time you read this the mythical national championship for college football will have been decided, but there are still plenty of other scholastic and collegiate sports to get fired up about – basketball, wrestling, swimming, gymnastics and track are just some of the teams we can vocally support.

BUT ... that's not the sort of trash talk we'll be engaging in here (sorry!).

No, I want to talk real trash – the detritus of the modern human condition. The stuff that, if you are a local homeowner, you place outside by the curb once a week on your way to work, and it disappears into large trucks before you return home.

Trash is on my mind because lately I've been getting pamphlets and letters and inserts in my trash bill. All to inform me that out here in the 'burbs that our current trash hauler will continue to be our "trash company" through 2019. By "out here in the 'burbs" I mean Benner, College, Ferguson, Harris and Patton Townships.

However there are a few changes.

In a benefit to our pocketbooks, our trash bill will go down by eleven cents per month. Which adds up to $1.32 a year. Enough for, well, not much of anything, but anytime you can get a government-bid service to go down in price is a great day for constituents.

The catch is that unlimited service – the pickup of as much trash as you can create – has been eliminated and replaced with an eight bag/container limit. Each of which can be no more than 35 gallons and 40 pounds. In a world where we are all trying to reduce our "footprint" this seems like a reasonable trade-off. Also a quick drive around our neighborhood on trash days indicates that 99% of the homeowners don't use anywhere near eight bags anyway.

Unfortunately the one change that I was really hoping for didn't materialize. A second garbage pick-up every week!

When we relocated to Happy Valley in 2005 I remember moving in to the house and striking up a conversation with our new neighbor – and asking which days were "garbage days." He replied Thursday. I remarked, "Oh, then we're on the Thursday, Monday rotation, huh?" And he said, "No, just Thursday."

Well, wasn't that a shock. Never had we lived in a house with just one garbage pick-up per week. My initial thought was, doesn't anyone here have non-compostable leftovers?! The remains from a chicken or turkey roast kept for more than two or three days in a hot garage over the summer and, let's just say things could get mighty ripe.

In time we adjusted. We recycled more and made sure we kept Lysol or Febreeze in the garage.

Here's an interesting tale about recycling. During a stretch of my career I commuted daily on the train into New York City. As the train left Newark toward the tunnel into the Big Apple it passed fields of those huge metal truck containers that are off-loaded from ships and then placed on trucks or trains for delivery all around the country.

The funny thing about those containers is we always think about them coming to the United States filled with all sorts of things for us to buy – electronics, housewares, clothes, shoes, and on and on. But we never think about what happens to those containers once they're here. Because they have to go somewhere, right? (Kansas?).

One of the other things I used to see along that train ride was a very large, rather decrepit-looking building (I know, there are a lot of those along that stretch!) that was always awash in used paper, cardboard and plastic. Clearly something to do with recycling I assumed. Except, they were filling those huge empty metal containers with the used paper, cardboard and plastic.

So I did a little research and found out where those empty containers go. Back across the ocean filled with our "recycled" material.

Recently I made an interesting discovery. According to the Journal of Commerce, in 2013 the largest exporting company in the United States was engaged in basically one business: exporting waste paper and plastic recyclables to China. Even more interesting is that the 4th, 6th, and 9th largest exporting companies do the exact same thing. And a part of the business of the 2nd and 3rd largest companies is exporting paper and waste paper.

Which led me to wonder, what do they do with all our waste over there?

Well, I'm certain that Centre Region Council of Governments does a great job with their recycling program and tracks the flow of their material, verifying its destination and usage, so that we can not only feel good about the effort we're making, but reap its benefits as well.

However another old maxim is the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And wouldn't that be some trash-talk, if all our recycling energy ended up serving us in ways we hadn't foreseen?

John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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