“Recycle America” has been the rallying cry in communities across the U.S. for over 20 years. Households throughout Northern Virginia routinely recycle products from inside their homes, as evidenced by the need for larger recycling containers and the growing size of recycling piles lining our streets on garbage and recycling day. However, I have to wonder about the bottles and containers that have been carelessly discarded on park paths, in bushes, and along curbs and sidewalks every day.
According to leading websites, like www.bottledwaterblues.com andEarth911.com , in the United States, only 28% of the nearly 60 million plastic bottles that are disposed each day reach a recycling center. Instead of being recycled and reused, the bottles occupy space in landfills. In practical terms, just 4,800 recycled 16 oz. bottles can save 1 cubic yard of landfill space. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen close to that amount during my morning runs this summer.
The unsightly nature of bottles on the side of the road and the ever-growing landfills are only two of the problems presented by unrecycled water bottles alone. Most people are not aware that one recycled bottle can save enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for six hours.
As recently as the last day of school, I was walking home from my older son’s bus stop with my younger son. We were enjoying the weather and excitedly anticipating his last day of kindergarten when he reached in to a bush and pulled out a plastic bottle. He immediately exclaimed, “Hey Dad, look at this. Don’t they know to recycle?” I could only shake my head and wonder how to harness the wisdom of a six-year-old for the rest of our community.
It didn’t get much better a few days later when I was stretching at the conclusion of one of my Saturday morning runs along the Cross County Trail. I heard and saw a squirrel chomping away on what I perceived to be a large nut. After listening to the frantic pace of his eating, I walked closer to get a better view of this “wonder of nature,” and found my furry friend trying to work his way through the plastic top of a McDonald’s container to get to the cherry at the bottom. Needless to say, my awe at the wonderment of nature quickly turned to frustration for both of us. However, I was able to salvage a minor victory over litter (and animal endangerment) by scaring him away and saved the container for my recycling bin.
Often, discussions about recycling have been linked with conversations about climate change, which opens the door for all kinds of political debate. I am not interested in engaging in those conversations. However, I would like to see a dialogue on behavioral change in our community. We have seen the power of community involvement make a positive impact on other parts of our community, such as pedestrian safety and land preservation. It’s time for Falls Church to lead Northern Virginia in the same type of positive behavioral change on recycling plastic bottles and containers.
Each of us can take responsibility for recyclables we encounter on the streets and public places. Business owners along Route 50, Lee Highway, and Broad Street can take a five-minute break during the day to gather and recycle bottles left near their establishments. Schools around the community can take steps to make larger recycling bins available AND visible in school hallways, and at sporting events and school activities. Image the positive influence of an announcer at an event giving a friendly reminder to recycle bottles and containers as participants are heading for the exits after the conclusion of a Jags, Mustangs or Statesmen victory.
In addition, more residents and guests can chip-in by taking the time to pick up recyclables they see on the way to their next destination or enjoying a walk in our parks. Finally, the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County can work with clubs and sports teams to make recycling bins available in dugouts and on sidelines at local fields to gather all the empty Gatorade, Powerade, and water bottles. It works at Westgate Park for the Falls Church Kiwanis Little League. How can we make recycling bins and dumpsters available at more locations around the community?
It seems clear to me that the intended consequence of all this activity is a citizenry that cares about a cleaner, friendlier, more energy-conscious community. We all have a responsibility to the aesthetics of the community and future of the planet. If each of us starts with one bottle, we can make a real impact on the number of bottles that are recycled, and stop unnecessarily filling local landfills.
I am confident this change can occur. It is evident on garbage and recycling night that we are succeeding in our attitude and behavior toward in-home recycling. It’s the attitude we take after we leave home that concerns me. We can take a moment for our future. We can Recycle America and Falls Church!