I Was A Lifelong Recycler
Last week I took a car load of plastic bottles down to Nevada Recycling in North Las Vegas on Mitchell Street to recycle them and see how much money I could get for them.
I grew up in California, lived there for the first 20 years of my life, and my dad and I always recycled plastic bottles and aluminum cans and maybe glass if we had it. Then I moved to Hawaii and lived there for the next 20 years or so of my life. Recycling was so important to me and my wife, and her family also practiced it regularly, so it was a no-brainer to continue recycling cans, glass, plastic and even newspapers in Hawaii.
So when we moved to Las Vegas this past summer, it felt really weird living with my auntie and cousins for those first few weeks while looking for our own place. Every day they would throw away a dozen plastic bottles, maybe more. This is the desert, baby, so we guzzle water like it’s nothing. And it just killed me to see them throw away bottle after bottle, day after day. But, it wasn’t my house, so I just did it the way they did it.
We did finally ask Auntie about recycling in Las Vegas and asked her why they didn’t recycle. She said that it just wasn’t worth it, because the recycling centers were far from her house and they just didn’t pay very much for cans and bottles.
So I nodded and said, “Okay,” but of course in the back of my mind I knew that we would start recycling as soon as we found our own place to live and could move in. So a few weeks later when we finally got our new condo, we moved in and immediately began to save our plastic bottles. We would easily drink three or maybe even four cases of bottled water every week, and the bottles were adding up very quickly. We didn’t have a garage or a backyard, so we would just put the bottles in plastic bags and store them out on the back porch…and in the car…and in the pantry…and in the living room.
Finally, after about two months, my wife had had enough of these plastic bottles everywhere, all over our house, and we had family flying in from Hawaii for a visit, so it was finally time to pack up all the empty water bottles and take them to the recycling place.
We have a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV, and we packed that sucker so full of bags of plastic bottles. With only my son and I in the car, the entire back seat and trunk of the car were filled with bags smushed to the roof; we had so many bags that I couldn’t even see out the back windows.
Now I knew that Nevada doesn’t have a state recycling program like California and Hawaii and other states have, but I figured we’d still do pretty well. I mean, we had A LOT of plastic bottles. So we drove about 10 or 15 minutes out to North Las Vegas to the recycling place, got a large plastic cart/bin and wheeled it out to our car in the parking lot.
My son and I took about 10 to 15 minutes to unload all the bags and empty them out into the bin. There were so many bottles that the bin was overflowing a little bit, so we had to smash them down so they wouldn’t blow across the parking lot as we wheeled them into the warehouse.
So the guy put our bin up on the scale, weighed it and wrote down the amount and gave us a little ticket. Then we walked over to the little booth and gave the ticket to the receptionist. Seconds lataer she handed me a receipt and some coins, and I kept my hand held out waiting for the dollar bills, but she just stopped and looked at me and smiled, so I said, “Oh, okay. Thanks”.
Are You Kidding Me?
Sixty. Seven. Freaking. Cents.
On the way home I checked the mileage as we were driving, and estimated that we probably had spent three dollars or more on gas, and therefore burned three dollars’ worth of fossil fuels and added three dollars’ worth of air pollution for a measly $0.67.
But that’s not all.
My son has been researching plastic pollution and recycling for school projects the past couple of years, and one thing that he learned was pretty disturbing to me. He learned that when we recycle plastic bottles, only about 30% of that plastic actually gets reused in new bottles. The other 70% ends up being turned into waste, and it gets loaded onto trucks and hauled right back out to the landfills anyway.
So 70% of all the plastic that we recycle still ends up in landfills, where it stays forever.
Is The Trade-Off Even Worth It?
So basically, I burned $3.00 worth of fossil fuels and added pollution into the air just to keep about $0.25 worth of plastic bottles out of landfills. Is that worth it? In terms of putting pennies in my pocket, no. Of course it isn’t worth it in that sense. I lost money driving there and back. But for the sake of the environment, for the sake of our planet, is it really worth it? I like the idea of keeping those plastic bottles out of our landfills, even if it’s really only 30% that actually gets reused. But at what cost?
So I’m still not sure, to be honest. For the time being, it’s actually easy to make the decision: I cannot afford to recycle. I don’t have the space in my small condo. I don’t have the space in my SUV. And I don’t have the extra money to spend on gas to drive up to North Las Vegas just to recycle. So from a personal finance perspective, it’s a no-brainer for me. It’s just not worth it. But I am curious, though, whether it’s a good trade-off: recycling to keep a few bottles out of the landfill versus not recycling to keep from adding a few dollars worth of fossil fuels and air pollution into the environment.
Do you recycle your plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass and paper? I know it feels good — feels like you’re accomplishing something — but is it really worth it? What do you think? Does it really matter? And, do you live in a state that has a recycling program that makes it more financially worth your while?
Chris Desatoff is a cartoonist and blogger. You can send your unwanted cans, bottles and comments to him at ChrisDesatoff.com.
Photos and text by Chris Desatoff