Today, Debbie hosted her Cub Scouts from Den 5 (Bolton Pack 157) at the CRRA Trash Museum in Hartford, Connecticut. She took our children to the museum a few years ago and in her role as Den Mother, thought it would be a good idea to lead a trip with her boys and their families. I joined the kids and parents for what turned out to be a fun-filled education tour. The Reduce/Reuse/Recycle/Recover/Rethink methodology deserves a lot more attention. Our family has always been very good about minimizing our waste and recycling everything possible, but we still learned a lot of new information during today’s visit.
I’m more motivated than ever to improve our home recycling while also stepping up efforts to get the 140 employees at Horst Engineering and Sterling Machine to care more about their own consumption. Some of the statistics we learned at the museum are shocking. Each Connecticut resident produces an average of 4.4 pounds of trash per day.
The CRRA plant on Murphy Rd. is a single-stream recycling facility. The 6,500 sq/ft museum is attached to the processing plant. We saw how the delivery trucks bring massive amounts of mixed recyclable items to the site. The workers use various technologies to sort the different items, including corrugated boxes, bottles, cans, jars, and the other items that are handled by the CRRA. Interesting, our hometown of Bolton is not a part of the 40+ town group that is served by the CRRA. Our recycling is managed by a different local organization. It is also odd that some of the recycling rules (e.g. what you can mix together) are different from what we learned today.
One good example: we were confused about plastic bottle caps. Our docent said that they should be removed and that not all of them are recyclable. She indicated that any time there is a question about an item, it is discarded (e.g. trashed). Her comments led me to believe that the whole system is quite inefficient because there seems to be little education about recycling. The fact that we were touring the museum with the Cub Scouts is great, but we sought out the education. I’m curious how much is taught at our kids’ schools. It’s important that the children learn the rules, but it’s also the adults who need to get more educated.
The lack of a standard likely contributes to recycling confusion. I know that ignorance is a big factor in the lack of recycling success because I pick plastic bottles and containers out of the trash at our factories all of the time. That is despite having separate containers, signs, and constant reminders. Many folks just don’t care. They don’t care what they consume and they don’t care where it goes when they are done with it.
Unlike the old days when landfills leached toxic chemicals in to the water supply, improvements have been made to the way we manage trash. Of course, the improvements in the United States don’t mean that other countries operate the same way. A lot of trash is now incinerated and the byproduct of the burning process, including the ash, is buried in special landfills. Garbage technology has come a long way.
The numerous exhibits explained all different types of trash processing. The kids got to explore the exhibits, many of which were interactive. We watched a video about the various methods used to process the trash. We also got to go to the mezzanine and view the actual plant through large windows. The docent led a craft building exercise where the kids learned how to turn trash in to art. They built little robots with styrofoam, aluminum foil, and other items. I thought I was knowledgeable about waste and its various streams, but I got a good primer this afternoon and I’m interested in learning more. At work, we have always been diligent about recycling the metal scrap that is generated from our precision machining processes, but I’m anxious to improve our handling of the every day trash that we generate.
I use the eyeball method to determine that we generate a lot less waste that our neighbors. We only have to “put out the trash” one day a month, and that is often only one bag. Our town picks up the trash every week, but we don’t have enough. One big reason is that we don’t put any food in our trash. We are vegan/vegetarian and we generate very little food waste. Anything we don’t eat gets composted in one of two composers, which we maintain year round. We try to avoid packaged products, particularly packaged foods. We still consume some, but at a lower rate than the average household. We also reuse the containers when we can and we recycle everything that is eligible. Seeing the piles of garbage at the CRRA plant was a stark reminder that there is so much waste in the way we live.
I recommend the tour of Hartford’s Trash Museum. If you can’t come to Connecticut, find a trash museum near where you live. It will change the way you think about trash.