Recycling Works: A Riff on Urban Mining

Earlier this fall, I blogged about the taconite (iron) mine proposed for a beautiful section of northern Wisconsin that borders Lake Superior, and is bisected by the poetically stunning Bad River. (“Is it Really Worth the Trouble?” Sept 26th, recycling_pile2011) In that post, I closed with “As I see it, it doesn’t have to be jobs vs. the environment.  When it comes to scrap metal, it’s jobs AND the environment.  In fact, the more I think about it, there are a lot of old tools in my garage that can add to the scrap pile and drive our local economy while also cleaning out the garage, thus making my husband very happy.  Now THAT’S a solution!”

I’m here to tell you that (1) I bit the bullet and recycled many of the quasi-antique shovels, rakes, tricycles, and unidentified but intriguing objects, (2) it was good for my pocket book and good for Milwaukee business, and (3) according to a new report, if more of us did this we’d be putting a lot more people to work and making a much smaller impact on our land and water resources.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, I realized that it was time to create some order in the garage so that our two cars could make their annual migration back to winter shelter.  The first step was a trip to Action Recyclers.  I do this a few times a year, but on this visit I took the plunge.  If you look closely in the photo above, you’ll see the usual aluminum cans, etc., but you’ll also notice some of my prized posessions.  The shovels (minus their wooden handles which can still provide support in my garden this spring), the old tricycle wheel that I found in the woods near my home in Delaware fifteen years ago, even one of hte very useful metal trashcans that I’ve scavanged through the years… sigh …

But it felt great – really.  And it felt even greater to be paid $41 for my metal “ore”.

But it turns out that I’m not the only person who is thinking about how recycling can help the economy while also protecting our environment.  A few weeks ago a labor and environment coalition released a report entitled “More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy in the U.S.”  The study goes deep into our waste stream, and sets the goal of recycling 75% of our waste by 2050.  In doing so the authors estimate that we’d grow the recycling sector by 2.7 times to a total of 2.3 million jobs, and eliminate nearly 8 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents.

But don’t take it from me – read it yourself.  Think about what you can do to recycle a little more.  Their’s money in those old shovels, dead strings of holiday lights, and drawers full of rechargers and internet chords.  Before we turn to the pristine hills of Wisconsin (or anyone else’s wilderness), let’s mine our own back yards.

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