February 16, 2024
Continuing with the environmental theme of the previous blog, an impressive change has occurred in the recycling industry since I was collecting newspapers with the Boy Scouts back in the 1960s. Yes, young readers, we once collected old newspapers to raise money for our camping trips. Most towns had several daily papers that tended to pile up in garages, basements, and other storage areas. Enterprising boys and their adult leaders would gather these papers, tie them into bundles, and take them to a scrap dealer. Said dealers would pay us around a penny a pound and resell them to processors who would make them back into blank newsprint. Those huge Sunday editions could then pre-printed on recycled paper without cutting a single tree. The Great Lakes ore boats were busy all summer long taking low-grade iron ore, called taconite, from Minnesota’s Mesabi Range to steel mills in Cleveland. You may recall the Gordon Lightfoot classic song about the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking while engaged in such work. It was dangerous and messy, despite the boats (not ships) getting bigger and more sophisticated. Considerable engineering effort went into improving efficiency in loading and unloading, starting with the incredible Hullets of the 1890s and continuing into the self-contained belt conveyors of the 1970s. We Scouts would recycle metal if we could find it, but the economy was always a step ahead of us on that valuable commodity. By the 1970s car crushers were available to speed old cars into their afterlife. In those pre-galvanized, sheet metal times a five-year-old car would already be perforated by “tin worms” if it was driven in the winter months. Our grocery stores all had an area set aside for returned glass bottles. A pop bottle would have a 2 cent deposit on it and a coaster wagon of bottles might fund a candy bar. Empty lots did not harbor bottles for long. My village now issues recycling carts for bottles, aluminum cans, newspapers, and scrap metal. They count on the income from the materials and patrol heavily on trash day as a result. Not too many newspapers are home delivered anymore and I cannot remember the last time I saw a recycled glass pop bottle at the food store. The average car is eleven years old, a testimony to improved product life if there ever was one. Things can get better if the incentive is great enough.