Decades ago, the roads, rivers and seas were littered with all manner of trash and pollution. Fortunately, America didn’t kick the can down the road on this issue, we’ve learned to clean up our neighborhoods and better dispose of what we’ve used up. We’ve adapted to the evolving waste stream and increased the focus on our environment. There’s room for improvement of course.
In terms of resource recovery we’re actually a pretty efficient people. In fact, one of the things that DOESN’T frequently turn up in roadside litter is the recyclables. I seldom find tin non-deposit cans or jars; I don’t see a lot of newspapers, magazines, boxes and the like; I certainly don’t come across many batteries and hardly ever a car battery or waste oil. I do see too much yard waste and some locations around the neighborhood are magnets for ewaste.
Some of the recyclables that I do come across and pick-up a lot are discussed here and here. But what about the batteries and electronics? What happens to them? What’s supposed to happen? And what about yard waste? Let’s start (hehe) with the batteries.
Something like 99% of the terrifically pollutive lead-acid car batteries are recycled, which makes these items the most recycled products of all. Thanks partially to recycling, there are a lot less lead smelting factories than there used to be: the Manongahela type smelting operations of Bob and Ray fame are a thing of the past. The last US ‘primary’ lead smelting plant closed in 2013, so now all of the domestic lead smelters are recycling used lead and any new lead comes from overseas. In terms of the environment, smelting is bad: really bad.
As for the rest of the lead batteries (the rechargeable kind but not the alkalines apparently) you can’t throw them in the trash any where in New York. Rechargeable batteries and other miscellaneous sources of potential pollution are not appropriate for a landfill, and they’re disposal is regulated – they’re required to be brought to a recycling facility. As for the alkalines; even though it’s not required by law I save them up and bring them to the local library where they have a collection barrel. Why not? Here’s a site with some good guidance on storage of used up batteries before disposal.
Rechargeable batteries are ubiquitous. Try counting up the battery operated things that you use and you’ll agree that they’re only getting more burrowed into our every day lives.
As in many areas, the consumer is a little tougher to regulate than, say, the local auto repair shops or the Boeing Corporation. Consumers dispose of a broad range of wastes, and local governments aren’t in the habit of citing them for improper recycling. It happens, of course, but recycling rules are mostly self-enforcing. Although that may be changing: good, imo. Government’s first responsibility with regards to the waste stream and how to dispose of things properly should, of course, be to educate and inform.
Ewaste is a growing problem, even if it’s not high on the list of picked up litter items. Electronics contain lots of potentially toxic stuff and stuff that really ought to be reused. Best practices are evolving and many modern appliances and electronics are designed to make recovering the useful parts easier. Many governments, however, are still in the process of adapting to this rising tide. Considering that the average household owns 24 electronic gadgets, and considering how quickly our gadgets wear out or become obsolete, these efforts are important. Probably, most of the electronics that are dumped, are dumped by contractors of one sort or another who are looking to save on disposal costs, but the other side is the consumer who may be understandably confused about how to dispose of ewaste. Look to your government website for guidance.
Other stuff that tends to end up by the roadside, or in the woods, is yard waste. The problem is that most municipalities won’t pick up grass clippings. Homeowners (taxpayers) are a hard shelled lot, and they haven’t taken kindly to bans on the disposal of grass clippings; they’ve found other ways to ‘dispose’ of them. Nearly any tract of woods adjacent to a suburban community on Long Island has become a grass dump.
Unfortunately, the bagged grass clippings become a smelly oozing mess in short order and are a real menace to the waterways. Even if grass clippings aren’t bagged and instead are just dumped in the woods, they’re a problem. Decaying grass releases lots of nitrogen which is a pollutant when it enters the watershed. Most municipalities ask people to leave the grass clippings on the lawn or compost them obviously not enough, and more needs to be done to address this issue
By the same token, most municipalities will pick up other kinds of (non-green) yard waste, so there’s really no excuse to dump that in the woods. Of course, people still do; with landscapers being the prime suspects (follow the money: they have to pay someone to dispose of it). Volunteers pick up a lot of bagged yard waste. Well, at least it’s already bagged up.
Conclusion? Recycling efforts are really helping to reduce and refine the waste stream, and the litter stream. There are some outliers, like batteries, grass clippings and yard waste, that need to be better addressed. The consumer has an obligation to dispose of used products in a responsible way, and government has an obligation to develop effective and efficient recycling programs: for everyone’s good.