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Recycling only begins at home

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
November 27, 2003


"I hold that man is in the right who is most clearly in league with the future." — Henrik Ibsen

Last week, as chair of The Encinitas Parks and Recreation Committee, I had the pleasure of touring parks in this coastal community with other commissioners. Our purpose was "in the field" consideration of parks and park elements planned for Encinitas residents. This endeavor was an educational one; designed to better familiarize us commissioners with the work of city staff in regards to meeting the recreation needs of a diverse and growing population, and it did.

Like most coastal cities, Encinitas has achieved build out and now is charged with improving the quality of life of residents through the planning and development of public amenities and services. To their credit, Encinitas City staff is ahead of the curve, as their planning not only includes immediate needs, but future needs as well. This commitment to future generations is best evidenced by the environmental stewardship advocated by city staff, while planning parks and their ongoing maintenance.

One of the eco-features staff wanted Park commissioners to see were the newly acquired trash receptacles replacing existing ones at city parks and beach access points. These new trash receptacles double as recycling bins as well. The catalyst for this infrastructure upgrade was the desire to reduce the solid waste stream issuing from our heavily used public spaces. Recycling, the separation of trash from cash is one way to achieve this goal. These new bins provide easy access to urban recyclers mining city spaces for the recyclables.

After the tour I ran into Phil Cotton, Director of the Encinitas Parks and Recreation Department, and took the opportunity to commend him on the professionalism of city staff, and their commitment to environmental stewardship. Phil was very proud of the new recycling/trash bins, most pointedly how these containers promote urban recycling and solid waste reduction while discouraging urban recyclers from digging through the trash. By placing recyclables within easy reach of those seeking to profit from the waste of others these new bins encourage consumers to do source point sorting.

Change however is never easy.

Stepping into our conversation, a Little League coach made it quite clear these new containers were inadequate to accommodate the amount of trash being discarded by park and beachgoers. By including a place to recycle, which discourages rifling through solid waste, this frequent park user felt that the smaller cans promoted litter because the new containers "could not be squashed down" by park users when full. Council member Dan Dalager sees this as a case of form over function when it really is just too much trash being generated by park users.

When confronted by this criticism, Director Cotton explained that each old "trash" can was being replaced with three new recycling/solid waste containers. These eco-friendly bins were made possible through grant funding provided by the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act, (a.k.a "the Bottle bill,") and money generated by a recycling franchising agreement between EDCO Disposal Corporation and the City of Encinitas. In other words these new recycling bins were paid for with recycling money.

From an environmental standpoint none of this goes far enough. The focus of the conservation conversation should be about reducing the amount of trash being created by Encinitas park goers. There is a rule in wilderness recreation that holds whatever you pack in you must pack out. The "leave nothing but footprints' doctrine has been around for decades, so why then do people feel the need to trash municipal parks?

Recycling, as observed in this column, can pay for itself. Trash on the other hand benefits only those hauling it away. Such waste costs the community, as the hauling and dumping of solid waste grows more expensive which each passing day. The only remedy to overflowing trash cans in city parks is not bigger trash cans, but less garbage being brought to parks in the form of Happy Meals and other elements of disposable dining.

As sensible citizens the environmental mantra remains the same: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Notice how bigger trash cans is not mentioned?

This, my friends, is no coincidence.

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