In My Opinion
Recycling still a mission in Barry County
Sometimes I wonder what Darlene Paulauski, Jackie Schmitz, and Shirley Wietnik saw almost 40 years ago when they started recycling in Barry County.
Could they have envisioned the coming calamity of a world that’s now choking on all the stuff it thought it could just throw away? And then I wonder what might have been if people had listened more closely to these three women who were so committed to caring for the beauty of a world that they’d come to love in Barry County.
Way back in 1982, Paulauski, Schmitz, and Wietnik were so committed to getting residents of our county sold on the benefits of recycling to our environment that they launched RiBC with no funding from local government. They worked hard to sell us an alternative to filling landfills with materials that could be used again.
In 1983, RiBC collected and marketed just 13.5 tons of recycled waste in the county and, even though it realized steady growth each year, it was always on the lookout for additional drop-off sites throughout the county. The group knew that if the program was to be successful, it had to be convenient.
In 1988, 42.7 tons of metal aluminum and glass were collected in the county. In 1989, plastic milk jugs and newspaper was added to the list of recyclables and, in six months, 2.8 tons of milk jugs were collected – that’s 39,200 jugs! During the same period, over 25.6 tons of newsprint was collected and recycled, keeping these items out of local landfills.
Not only did RiBC promote recycling to county residents, it also focused on getting business and industry involved in the effort, by convincing them they had an important role in closing the recycling loop if we expected to see any dramatic improvement in protecting the beauty of our county.
In 1989, Jane Norton took over the program and focused on education, holding seminars, featuring speakers who shared information on the importance of the program and getting people and businesses to use waste-reduction methods along with continuing to expand residential programs. Yet, Norton realized that if Barry County was to move the needle, it needed a proper handling site for solid waste.
Ken Neil, former owner of Hastings Sanitary Services, (now Waste Management) supported RiBC and its efforts and opened up a sorting facility to separate waste for recycling. During the same time, our local extension office took on recycling and the importance it had on our environment. Former director Jan Hartough said at the time, ”I think recycling is important or I wouldn’t do it. It’s an alternative to landfills. It has to happen. We’re running out of room. We’re running out of resources. It’s inevitable.”
Now here we are – 30 years from that high point of progress -- and we’re still talking about the importance of recycling and the impact it has on our environment. Last week’s front-page story in the Reminder struck me hard because of the attention it brings to our readers of the momentum we’ve lost. The numbers show that we’ve lost some steam. The interest and dedication required to make recycling and planet preservation a success has flagged.
What will it take, though, to regenerate the commitment that we saw from those women back in 1982 to be good stewards of the land on which we live? I still take encouragement from the positive life and words of former President John F. Kennedy who truly believed that, “One person can make a difference and every person must try. What if each of us really tried? What if each of us spontaneously decided that, one by one, we really can be the better world we wish for?”
Today, politicians are using the idea of saving our planet or addressing climate change to appear virtuous, caring and concerned over issues most of us know little about. As I watched the celebration of the 50th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon over the weekend I thought wouldn’t it be great if we could put the same level of dedication to our environment by using the data we’ve gathered throughout the 50 years of the space program to study the true impact that we’re having on the planet. For that to be successful, though, it must remain non-partisan, or it’s doomed to fail.
“Michigan has gotten complacent,” said Kerrin O’Brian, Director of Michigan’s Recycling Coalition. “We can and we must become American’s leaders once again in recycling. The EGLE campaign is a tremendous opportunity for Michigan to advance to the next level of performance in protecting our environment.”
EGLE, the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy, announced an education effort in June, “Know It Before You Throw It” to better inform residents what can, and cannot be recycled. The campaign is dedicated to raise awareness and increase the amount of recycling to save our landfills. According to EGLE, Michigan landfills will be full by 2044. State numbers indicate over 49 million yards of trash was disposed in the state’s landfills in 2016. That’s approximately 15,000 Olympic swimming pools of garbage in one year.
“If we’ve learned any lessons during the past few decades, perhaps the most important is the preservation of our environment is not a partisan challenge,” former President Ronald Reagan said. “Our economic well-being will be sustained only by all of us working in partnership as thoughtful, effective stewards of our natural resources.”
Both Kennedy and Reagan, along with other former presidents, realized the concerns for the environment, yet, here we are, years later still debating the importance of creating a culture of stewardship of our planet. If we expect to gain any traction, though, we can’t allow it to be politicized or we will be talking about it 30 years from now with little or no action on the issue.
It’s a worthwhile goal, state and local officials say, because any movement of the needle will have a significant impact in the county. The EGLE study indicates, “Doubling the recycling rate in Michigan is expected to produce positive environmental, quality of life, and economic outcomes.” Yet, to be successful, we all must feel the need to be good stewards of the land. If we are serious about saving our little corner of the world, we should start by accepting the responsibility of managing our waste, by controlling our own waste stream and keeping everything we can from a landfill.
“Here is our country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children,” said former President Theodore Roosevelt, who may be known as the most environmentally-conscious of all our presidents. “Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
Looking for action? Start with the belief that “it is possible” and that each one of us can make a difference – and making a difference we must!
Fred Jacobs, CEO
J-Ad Graphics, Inc.