So, I've heard that China has stopped buying all our recycling because it's too contaminated, and these days, everything just winds up in the landfill. Is this true? Is it my fault for not washing out all those peanut butter jars? Is recycling a sham? —Gerry B.
As luck would have it, Gerry, the main thrust of your question is being answered in this week's cover story.
This is probably just as well, since I slept in this morning, convinced by a series of dreams that this week's topic was a country song called "Lingering Anus." (I wish I was kidding.) Hitting the snooze bar for the 30th time, I figured this week's column would pretty much write itself.
Imagine my chagrin upon finally awakening and recalling that the thing I had two hours to be funny about was not a pornographic honky-tonk ballad but, rather, regional waste-disposal policy. Thus, I'm more than happy to leave this one to the grown-ups.
I can, however, add a few minor points: While it's true that some Oregon recyclables are going into the landfill, Portland has so far largely been spared this ignominy.
This is not because we're better recyclers than our downstate counterparts, but because the big recycling processors are almost all located in the Portland metro area—local haulers don't have the high transportation costs that keep recycling from penciling out for their more far-flung counterparts.
But don't worry, we're still huge jerks. We continue to profane the recycling stream by throwing practically everything into it, all the while patting ourselves on the back for, basically, being too cheap to spring for a bigger trash bin.
And it gets worse! The option to recycle actually seems to make us more profligate consumers. Studies have found that people consistently use more paper when a recycling bin is present: "I don't have to reduce or reuse—I recycle!"
Sometimes, the most morally authentic thing to do is to walk past the recycling bin and put that restaurant clamshell in the trash where it belongs: Yes, you created waste—don't make it worse by trying to hide from karma like a little bitch.