Recycling works --when waste costs money

November 04, 1990|By E. L. Sternberg

Rutland, Vt. My child wears disposable diapers. I rarely car-pool. It doesn'bother me that fast-food restaurants pack their products in foam boxes because I'm skeptical of the whole global-warming notion.

But I do wash and save bottles, newspapers and cans to go to the recycling bin. I collect my beer and soda bottles to return to the store for my deposit. I neatly fold cartons and boxes to take up less space in my garbage can. And I conserve hot water by not letting the tap run too long or too hot.

RTC Why do I do these things? Because they save me money.

Since moving to Vermont from Baltimore three months ago, recycling and conserving have started to weave their way into the fabric of my family's life. Vermont is recycle-friendly; its people are ecology-minded. The idea that recycling is for the public good is everywhere. The grocery store where we regularly shop uses bags liberally printed with "recycle, reuse" messages.

But there's more to the recycling message here than just the spin that grocery store marketing experts put on it. It has a bite to equal its trendy bark.

If you don't recycle here, it costs you.

First of all, the city where we live does not provide trash removal service. Residents either contract for this service with a local waste disposal dealer, or they, like the previous frugal owners of our house, haul their garbage to the landfill themselves. Our contract allows us to put out three garbage cans once a week for which we are charged close to $25 a month. We pay extra if we put out more garbage.

On Friday of each week, there is a "recycling" pickup. Into a set of bins, each resident piles newspapers, bottles, cans and plastic milk containers for a free pickup. But we don't include beer or soda bottles -- these can get money at the grocery store (like in the "old days") if returned.

As might be expected, these New Englanders are energy-conscious as well. The local utility company, Central Vermont Public Services Corp., encourages its customers to be frugal with heat by offering an unusual double meter system. There's one meter measuring electric use for most of the house and a separate meter connected only to the water heater. Service for that meter is billed at substantially less than the other meter.

Why? Because for two four-hour periods each day, electricity is shut off to the water heater meter. Those periods occur in the morning and in the evening during peak use hours.

All these measures add up to a change in lifestyle. In Baltimore we could put out all the trash we wanted on the sidewalk twice a week, and it disappeared, seemingly for free. We didn't need to recycle, and we weren't penalized for not doing so.

Here in Vermont, we're careful about what we put in the garbage can and how we fill its space because we pay for the amount that's removed. Because bottles, cans and newspapers are taken away, for free, as part of the recycling program, we gladly separate them from our other trash. And the double meter system makes us careful about our water use. We don't let the hot water run too long; we're careful about how many hot-water wash cycles we use in our washing machine; and we think twice before running a steaming hot bath as opposed to a comfortable warm one.

And guess what? It's not hard. Right outside our back door sits the bin for recyclables. Getting money back for bottles just means remembering to take them back to the store during normal grocery shopping times. And, as for the water heater program (the system we expected to be difficult at best), it causes us merely to think about our use and slightly alter our habits. And we have three children. And have had visitors since moving here.

So, there you have it. I'm a born-again recycler. I say born-again, because I've always believed in the old adage "Waste not, want not." But Vermont's financial incentives have helped me rediscover it.

BIn fact, the ease of daily recycling and conservation efforts here has been such a surprise I would characterize it as a personal epiphany.

I've jumped on the conservation bandwagon. It wasn't difficult to convert me.

E. L. Sternberg is a free-lance writer.

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