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March 16th, 2011 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Rinsed Recycling?

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Like most Portlanders, I like to recycle those things I can. Sometimes, it takes a while to get containers rinsed clean. With all that rinse water wasted vs. adding to the landfills, what’s a good environmentalist to do? —Puzzled in Portland

The dull way to answer this query would be simply to appeal to authority: Metro, which oversees conservation for this region, encourages you to rinse and recycle. Meanwhile, I’ve found approximately zero reputable (or even disreputable) sources that say “Save water—trash your cans.”

But where’s the fun in that, when your question so clearly invites one of Dr. Know’s patented, back-of-the-chablis-box bogus mathfests? Drunk on Adderall and vertiginous dialectic, you and I shall prove the obvious—with mathematical certainty!

Using the lipstick of the last woman to spend the night here (I won’t say how old it is, but the first ingredient is “whale oil”), I’ve calculated that since each Portland household recycles about 700 pounds of, um, recycling each year, and only 22 percent of that is glass, metal or plastic, so you’re really only rinsing about 3 pounds of stuff per week.

Even assuming that all your recycling is super-light aluminum beer cans (which, believe me, can happen), that’s only 100 or so rinses a week. Never one to shirk from the trench warfare of science, I personally measured the amount of water it took me to rinse a soup can, and the most I could plausibly use was about a liter.

Thus, in a bad week you might devote 27 gallons of fresh water to rinsing—less than 1 percent of the 2,730 gallons the average household uses. Assuming your job has low-flow toilets, you’d probably save more water just by following the working man’s maxim: “Never sweat on the company’s time, and never take a shit on your own.”

 
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