There’s an undeniable warm and fuzzy feeling after making a trip to the Taos Recycling Center and dropping off a carload of recyclables. All that effort to carefully separate out plastic, cans and cardboard, spending that precious time and gas driving down to Bertha Street to meet with other fellow do-gooders will surely help save the environment, right?
Unfortunately, the data says otherwise.
The Taos Regional Landfill Board has been saying it for years now: Recycling is a giant money pit, a real loser, and one that achieves virtually none of the environmental benefits originally intended. But now that the Board is set to close the Center for good on Sept. 10, our government representatives need to implement some radical measures to reduce the junk our communities produce each year.
Studies have consistently shown that less than 7.6 percent of the materials Taoseños drop off there are recycled in the county, with only around 2 percent coming from individuals and the remainder coming from governments. Contamination is a major issue. That oily pizza box you shook the crumbs out of or the milk jug that still had flakes in the bottom? Those are likely going straight to the landfill because they can’t be processed unless they’re squeaky clean.
This isn’t just a local problem; it’s a global problem. Recycling used to be a good business to be in. Starting in the 1990s, manufacturers in China became the world’s largest buyers of recyclable goods, paying top dollar for used metal and plastics the United States produced. We’d package them up by the ton and ship them across the ocean.
But that market reached its apex around 2009, and since then prices for those materials have plummeted, hitting a low in 2014. According to Bloomberg News, the average price of used corrugated cardboard fell by 85 percent in two years in August 2019. The result of these economics is that landfills the world over are growing ever larger.
The recently proposed resolution from Taos County to keep the center open by charging county residents $1.75 per month really isn’t the solution we need, which is not to suggest that finding the right one is an easy task.
What we do know, is that plastic bans – and, more generally, using less materials on an individual basis – is a direct way to help slow the environmental degradation our trash creates. Town of Taos should re-institute a ban on plastics and it’s high time Taos County did the same. Businesses should be held responsible for producing too much trash and incentivized with tax credits for meeting green requirements. Taos Ski Valley, a certified B Corp, can serve as a model for other businesses to follow.
And whatever endorphin rush you experienced as a dedicated patron of the recycling center, find that now by using only what you need and discovering ways to reuse the materials you already have at hand.