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Wed, Feb

Instead of Ramping Up Recycling, How About Cutting the Crap?

LOS ANGELES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - Recently there have been a number of articles on why recycling is not working. A few years ago LA Sanitation’s recycling went from being a profit center to a drain on their budget when China and other Asian countries put a stop to buying American trash.

But this problem is driven less by the lack of recycling and far more by how much garbage people produce.

In Los Angeles there are over 600,000 single-unit dwellings and another quarter-million in townhome and condominium structures of less than ten units, presumably faithfully pushing their black, green and blue pails to the curb every week.

Imagine the volume!

But the most important question is why?

Angelenos buy, consume and throw out much too much – packaging, unconsumed food, pet poop, unwanted items, junk mail, DYI construction leftovers... you name it.

The Los Angeles Sanitation Department has transitioned from just charging a small fee for additional black bins to extolling trash reduction on their website.

In the craziness of the RecycLA rollout, the lucky haulers tried to maximize their income instead of helping condo-owners, apartment management and businesses to reduce their garbage. Individual citizens and commercial customers spoke up and the perspective on these operations slowly improved.

The amounts of trash kept mounting, especially during the pandemic when Amazon shipping reached all-time highs and single-use pre-packaged portions were de rigueur.

But can cutting the crap be done by individuals?

Certainly. But each of us must do our part.

And once there are enough of us, we will have the leverage, the economic power, to accomplish far more.

You wouldn’t jump in a deep lake not knowing how to swim.

Let me tell you my story. And while I live alone, I live in an older home that requires constant attention and maintenance, without and within.

Your initial action is to accept that it’s ok for you to do this within your own comfort zone – one step at a time.

There are links you can go to in order to cut down on junk mail. And make it clear to utilities, stores and the government that you don’t want your purchases and taxes to fund junk mail. This will be an ongoing project: as your mission succeeds on some fronts, what remains becomes your next challenge.

My next challenge is all those election mailings.

They may look cheap compared to producing and airing television spots but they are hardly effective. I’m going to start by calling whoever is running, and the offices of the various propositions, and telling them I will vote against them if they continue with the paper spam which destroys trees, poisons water with toxic inks, spews greenhouse gases from development through delivery, and then enters the garbage chain.

Either blue-binned, or to the landfill where it adds to the methane burps that are even worse than the fumes and energy generated in the recycling process.

Or perhaps I’ll press forward on PLUs.

PLUs? You know, price-look-up labels. Those plastic stickers now plastered on our fruits and vegetables so they can be scanned making it easier to fire and hire cashiers at will.

If enough people push our elected officials to ban them, they may have to go the way of the buggy whip. Corporate store management policies will certainly not change on their own. Especially when it means they may have to train staff better and treat their employees with more respect.

Another easy option is also at the grocery store. Always bring your own bags – paying for those heavier-weight plastic ones which may last a trip or two just contributes more toxic plastic to the dump. No, they are NOT recyclable, and the oil industry is laughing all the way to the bank. If you don’t believe me, call LASAN at (800) 773-2489.

The next step is to buy a set of washable net produce bags. I got mine at the beginning of Covid because I couldn’t open the plastic flimsies, and they are still going strong while I tick off the hundreds of unrecyclable flimsies I’ve saved from the dump.

And, duh, don’t buy over-packaged products.

That’s why I buy mostly fresh produce loose – produce with the side benefit of healthier eating and less likely to have been prettied up with toxic coloring and chemicals to sell well after long shipping and storage.

If you just have to have something that comes in a plastic fitting in a box sealed in film on a laminated card and can’t find an alternative, tell the store owner your concerns for the planet. They’ll say they can’t help you but if enough people complain, they might pass it along to their wholesaler and start a reverse pyramid scheme.

While we are talking manufacturers, start targeting them directly. Calling them and venting your objections. Be sure to get a name and number for others to call – to augment our power in numbers.

Then you can blog about how well they did or didn’t do.

Our purchases fund corporate salaries so these decision-makers need to start making better decisions based on their customers’ demands – not to their profit-at-all-cost executives and shareholders.

And they need to take a deep breath and start to contribute to a circular sustainable economy, treating their employees, their suppliers and their customers with respect. This includes treating our resources, the environment and the entire planet with the same respect.

In other countries and even in Texas, Coca-Cola has reuse-and-refill programs; if it and other companies were forced to implement these everywhere, it would make a huge impact on reducing carbon emissions and plastic production since Coke alone produces almost one quarter – 134 billion – of the world’s PET plastic bottles.

Unless they are forced to, companies like Coke and Amazon will only continue to add to the world’s trashpile. To make them comply, governments at all levels must legislate these and other corporate behemoths into submission. And here, your voice counts – on the phone, in letters and e-mails, and at the polls.

Next, consider changing the way you eat.

Homemade meals impose less of a trash footprint than eating out, and are almost always lower in salt, sugar, calories and fats. And eating at home has many added benefits – connecting with family members, appreciating each other instead of cramming down junk food, a reduced carbon impact, and reusable leftovers.

Plus you get to choose the ingredients. And their packaging.

Buy only what you need.

Tune out the marketing and make your own style. Check out swap meets and home sidewalk sales.

And before targeting something for the not-so blue bin, consider the 3 Rs that precede recycling: Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose.

Cut the crap and get on the wagon to waste reduction. And then maybe Los Angeles can start phasing in procedures that have benefited other large cities such as cutting the 60-gallon black bins to 20 and offering customers sizable rebates to encourage conservation.

And a sealed organics box or bag so collection can be reduced to bi-monthly.\

Last, but certainly not least, so long as people continue to feed their pets, the final product will be pet poop. My vegan tortoises produce excellently processed compost but the owners of omnivorous creatures have to muck with poop bags that, despite the manufacturers’ claims, are NOT biodegradable.While a huge improvements over letting Fido defecate on the neighbors’ lawns and letting the pet poop provide bacterial nutrition to pollute our sewers, over 2.6 million cats and dogs in Los Angeles (5.7 million in the County) can be pretty prolific poop producers.

Those scientists that came up with artificial intelligence must be plenty smart – perhaps they should target those brain cells on achieving something really important, like solving the pet poop problem.

Talking about crap – why do people pull handfuls and handfuls of TP off the roll for one wipe? Are they that afraid of their body’s biology – which is a truly wonderful creation? Even though city san sewers may tolerate TP better than septic systems, there is no reason to be so profligate with poop wipe.

If people are so disgusted with their own bodies, perhaps AI and the Terminator robots should take over the earth.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)