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Why Charlotte's recycling initiatives work


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I am loving Charlotte's recycling program these days.

My heart skipped a beat when I learned that our 18-gallon red recycling crates were being supersized to 96-gallon green bins that could hold a lot more. And I appreciate the city making a greater effort to make recycling easier and giving us the resources to maximize every possible opportunity to recycle. Officials have even installed recycling containers on Tryon Street between 1st and 8th streets in Uptown. On top of all that, during the next three months, a "Prize Patrol" will give recyclers free Harris Teeter gift cards, free food and more.

Creating incentives to recycle is great and helps to get people excited about the program, which was funded by a $6.4 million Energy Block Grant received under the stimulus program. What I love most about the program is that everyone can do it and benefit from it in some way.

Some people are pissed that funds are being used for recycling bins instead of keeping good teachers in place or public libraries. I wholeheartedly agree that we should be doing more to keep good teachers in place and keeping our public libraries open and staffed; however, the money for this initiative is coming from a federal grant, which specifically requires that it be used for this purpose. Funding for teachers and libraries comes from a different source. If the money for recycling is out there, why wouldn't the city go after it?

Not only that, but the benefits of recycling are enormous. Recycling creates more jobs, economic development and tax revenue. A 2004 Environmental Protection Agency report stated that recycling industries have created 8,817 jobs in North Carolina. And according to the North Carolina Office of Waste Reduction's report titled "The Impact of Recycling on Jobs in North Carolina," recycling job gains can far outnumber those jobs lost in other industries. The report stated for every 100 recycling jobs created, just 10 jobs were lost in the solid waste industry, and three jobs were lost in the timber harvesting industry. Nationally, recycling creates 1.1 million U.S. jobs, $236 billion in gross annual sales and $37 billion in annual payrolls. Recycling creates four jobs for every one job created in the waste management and disposal industries. This sounds good to me, but it gets better.

According to the website Recycling Revolution, recycling programs cost less to operate than waste collection, landfilling and incineration. The more people recycle, the cheaper it gets — so even when it is expensive to begin with, it becomes cheaper to operate, especially when programs are run efficiently. Eventually, the city will make money from it. New York City is a great example of this, once suspending its recycling program due to a budget crisis, and reinstating after realizing the ridiculous amount of revenue and jobs that were lost due to the suspension. New York City makes enough waste to fill the Empire State Building each day. Do the math and you see the kind of revenue that can be made, which is probably why they just signed a 20-year recycling contract.

The environmental benefits of recycling aren't too shabby either. The energy we save when we recycle one glass bottle is enough to light a light bulb for four hours. Every ton of paper that is recycled saves 17 trees. Recycling helps reduce our reliance on foreign oil by saving energy.

I say all of this to reiterate that recycling is a good thing, even if the timing seems bad. Don't be shortsighted or misinformed. Critics might want to focus less on blaming the recycling program for the city's financial woes and more on your neighbors who aren't paying property taxes. Non-payment of property taxes is the largest revenue drain on any city, including ours.

I'm going to recycle my heart out, being mindful of the economic and environmental benefits — and so should you.


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