Garbage? No, Gold

October 02, 1994

As curbside recycling programs spread around the region, Marylanders are learning a surprising thing about their garbage: a lot of it isn't. By separating items like cans, bottles and paper for separate pick-ups, the average family is finding that once-a-week pick-up for everything else is plenty.

Meanwhile, local governments are pleasantly surprised to discover that citizen participation is one of the easier parts of recycling programs. In fact, some jurisdictions are now recycling close to half their garbage, whereas only a few years ago, no one expected recycling programs to claim more than about a quarter of a community's waste.

Recycling is the wave of the future, not just for households but also for businesses and industry. It's not just good citizenship, it's an economic necessity as consuming societies put increasing pressure on renewable resources.

But necessity produces its own opportunities, and some analysts are now pointing to a huge range of benefits that are coming from reclaiming usable waste. One optimistic report asserts that overhauling the materials economy -- redesigning products and processes and reducing waste -- could create millions of new jobs while also doing a lot of favors for the environment, such as cutting down on production of toxic wastes.

Other signs of progress include the fact that the Chicago Board of Trade, one of the world's main markets for commodities, plans to begin trading recycled materials early next year. Around the world, entrepreneurs are finding ways to sustain small businesses by mining local waste streams for reusable materials. Even the World Bank, often maligned for failing to support small-scale, people-oriented projects, is supporting Lanais Ganda ("Clean and Beautiful"), a network of scavengers in the Philippines who comb Manila's infamous trash mountains for reusable items. Hundreds of formerly impoverished people have been able to set up small businesses through this program.

Garbage? As any yard sale devotee could tell us, one person's waste might well be another person's treasure.

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