Community Green: Wondering about our waste stream?

By Pamela Noel

Special to Plumas News


I became curious as I saw the Waste Management truck lumber up the street, the driver pulling on the emergency brake, hopping out, and throwing both garbage and recycling in the same truck.  Not too long ago, there were two trucks, each taking on their own type of refuse—one  for recycling, the other for the landfill trash.


The next week, I met the driver out front, and asked him what was happening.  He told me that there was a lack of staff.  Thus, they had to pick everything up in one truck.  I decided to inquire further.  After talking with local representatives, I was given the phone number for the area supervisor.  He started the conversation by telling me he was a real “recycling nerd”, but what has happened with recycling has now shifted dramatically.  Where much of our recycling once went to China, because of our single stream system, they no longer take our plastic, as it has become contaminated with food waste.  Thus, less than 10% of our plastic is now recycled.  The rest ends up in the landfill or even worse, the ocean.



With this reality hitting me I realized that it is “up to us” to do what we can now to reduce what we use.  AND…as we slide into the holiday season, it is a good time to increase our consciousness about what we are buying, in a way that helps, and does not add, to the problem.


As we develop our holiday lists, I am suggesting to my family, that we focus on only giving gifts to one another that do not contribute any residue to the waste stream.  My son asked me what that would look like, wanting to pass the information on to his friends.  Some of my ideas for him harken back to my childhood, when I had little financial power.


I developed a “coupon book” for my holiday or birthday gifts.   Back then, the coupons consisted of raking leaves, washing the car, ironing pillow cases (doesn’t happen now, I suspect), and a variety of little chores that were additional to my weekly ones.  Services like babysitting or preparing a meal were good choices.


My parents always believed that “experiences” were more important than “things” as gifts.  Thus, they would give us a couple of extra weeks at camp, or a trip and picnic to Armstrong Grove with several friends.  Sometimes a special outing would consist of sailing or canoeing on a nearby lake, or a trip to see the ballet for me.



Grandparents would often make gifts to our college bank accounts, or purchase a savings bond for the future. Later, my grandmother and mother would give us what they called “tuck boxes”, filled with baked goodies and other special snacks they would send to camp or school. Thus, everything sent was certain to feed our stomachs as well as our hearts.  At one point I gained a reputation in my family for an all-purpose seasoning I created.  My brother made flavored vinegars.  An uncle harvested oranges and olives from his grove; another uncle gave us gifts of almonds and honey produced in his yard.  The possibilities seemed endless.


One of my favorite places to visit for gifts is a thrift store.  A great place to find one-of-a-kind items, it assures that something that may have landed in the landfill, takes on a second life.  Anything that can be utilized or consumed in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the environment is an eco-friendly idea—an on-line subscription to a newspaper or magazine, a gift from the kitchen or the workshop, something creative built from materials found in nature (holiday wreaths or wall hangings). The most important aspect of the gift is the love and care that surrounds the giving.


So as we are make our way toward this holiday season, I am urging my family to take an extra thoughtful step, and consider the impact their giving has on our planet. Many of us have creative talents that can be developed into gifts—be it a poem, a story, a song, or culinary or other art.  But the greatest gift of all is a future that will be available because we cared enough to live in a way that helps to ensure its arrival.