PSA: Don’t Burn Garbage
As I’m sure most of you are aware, today is Earth Day. While I could talk about all the eco-friendly things that we’ve been doing when renovating the house, I actually would like to write about something that’s not so green: garbage.
As I talked about before, when we bought this house it had been trashed and abandoned. We took it in stride, and it was mainly my job to get rid of all of the things that were left — whether that meant giving it away on Craigslist, taking it to the local recycling center, or hauling it to the scrap yard. At the time, I waxed about how it can easy it is to accumulate stuff, especially items that are hard to dispose of (hazardous waste, electronics, appliances, and so on). Well, a discovery I made this week has made me realize that difficulty may not have had anything to do with it. Exhibit A:
On Tuesday, I decided to make use of the fire pit on our property. We’d taken down some tree branches too close to our power lines, cut them up and placed them near the pit. I knew that things had been thrown in there over the years, but somehow I didn’t quite grasp the breadth of the items I’d find as I scooped out the old ashes. The photo above is the reason I feel the need to bring this up on Earth Day. What you’re looking at is, among other things, a broken glass bottle and an aluminum can I fished out of the ashes. Additionally, I found tin cans, plastic water bottles, toy cars, door hinges, and a handful of marbles.
So the point here is that the previous owner burned his garbage instead of having it hauled. But it’s actually slightly more frustrating than that. You see, in St. Paul we have organized recycling collection. That means that the City of Saint Paul contracts with a hauler (currently Eureka Recycling) to collect curbside recycling for every resident in the whole city, and the costs are just folded in with municipal property taxes. So the previous owner of this property had access to a curbside recycling program the whole time — and was paying for it — and just didn’t use it.
As many of you know, I work in the field of recycling education, so this realization is pretty mind-blowing, and a little depressing. How can someone have complete access to recycling and yet choose to illegally throw it into a burn pit? I can only hope it’s a lack of knowledge. Here’s some information about burning garbage, and the alternative:
- Burning garbage, especially plastics, releases carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) into the air.
- Smoke contains particulates that can contribute to air pollution.
- Many materials won’t combust completely, meaning that garbage will just be buried by ashes, such as in the situation in our fire pit.
- Residential garbage burning is prohibited by law in all the counties in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, including Ramsey County.
- In the City of St. Paul, homeowners are required to contract for garbage hauling service, and curbside recycling service is provided at no monthly cost.
- Recycling in Minnesota includes plastic bottles, metal cans, glass bottles and many paper products.
- Recycling these items actually helps the economy of Minnesota, as these materials are wholesaled and used in the manufacturing of recycled-content items that are then sold to consumers.
- Additionally, recycling helps save energy. For example, recycling an aluminum can takes 95% less energy than manufacturing one from virgin materials. A can you put in the curbside bin can be turned into a new soda can in as little as three weeks.