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Is municipal recycling becoming a disposable idea?

Have we have stared at the mounting expense and hassle of it all … and blinked?

You have to wonder.

The city of Greensboro has announced that it will end the recycling of glass bottles and jars, effective July 1.

Meanwhile, another local government in North Carolina community decided to stop recycling everything. Faced with a doubling of the costs, the Craven County commissioners voted earlier this year to end curbside recycling altogether.

Finally, state legislators on Monday stripped from a new regulatory reform bill a provision that would have allowed the disposal of old computers and televisions, which contain toxic chemicals, in municipal landfills. As incredibly dumb and shortsighted as it was, the provision has been broached before and, like a leaking sewer, probably will bubble up again. But good riddance for now.

Back home in Greensboro, city officials say glass has become too costly to process. It is hard to separate from other recyclables, such as paper. It contaminates other reusable materials. Plus they say glass is less of a hazard when placed in landfills and even helps compact other waste.

Then there is a changing market. China, which has been a major international customer for recyclables, is buying less. This results in sluggish demand for U.S. recycling companies’ products. The upshot is that Greensboro, which until now was being paid by a private company to recycle municipal waste, will now pay that same company an estimated $750,000 in 2019-20 for the service once the contract is renewed.

The thing is, recycling among many of us has become an ingrained behavior in Greensboro, and elsewhere.

We are conditioned to put paper and plastics (if not glass anymore) into those big brown bins the city provides to its households.

As for Craven County, where commissioners voted to toss out curbside recycling? Only days later, they reconsidered after blowback from angry constituents. Now that community will preserve the program by picking up recyclables less frequently.

Part of what makes recycling costlier, frankly, is us. Despite our outward enthusiasm for the idea, many of us don’t play by the rules. You wouldn’t believe what your friends and neighbors (certainly not you) are throwing into their recycling bins: soiled diapers, car engine parts, overflow household garbage that won’t fit anywhere else … you name it.

One solution is greater public education and awareness of what is recyclable and what is not. For instance, plastic bags are not, and pose a nuisance for recycling companies by tangling the machinery that does the sorting. Nor are milk or juice cartons. The aluminum and steel cans, cardboard and plastic bottles, tubs, and jugs that the city does accept for recycling should be empty, clean and loose. But we are beginning to accept recycling as the new normal. We can and should get better at it.

Even if it costs more in the short run, the long-term benefits of recycling are obvious: energy savings, cleaner water, lower carbon emissions, less need to build new landfills. So the very last thing we should do is trash it.

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