In Our View: We Don't Need All This Stuff

So let's improve our recycling habits, starting with a New Year's resolution

The late comedian George Carlin was both correct and prophetic when he proclaimed: "That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. … If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house."Trouble is, we always have to get rid of a lot of stuff, and it's important to do so wisely, to minimize negative impacts on our environment, especially at landfills.

One great New Year's resolution is to vow to recycle more stuff, and a Saturday Columbian story by Eric Florip provides ample inspiration. Clark County officials recently announced that in 2011, for the first time, we recycled more than half of disposable waste; 50.2 percent locally, and 50.7 percent statewide. To understand the magnitude of that accomplishment, compare those recycling rates with the meager 15.2 percent that was posted statewide in 1986.

That was the year when state officials set a recycling goal of 50 percent annually, and we suspect many people thought the challenge was immense. But by 2004, the state had topped 40 percent. And now that the 50 percent milestone has been reached, another goal will have to be set, a little predicament that should inspire pride in all Washingtonians. Our respect for the environment has been reflected in a steady increase in recycling rates for almost three decades. Who knows how close to 100 percent we can get?

Here in Clark County, we started seeing bigger gains in recycling (up to 46 percent) in 2010. That was the first full year of the blue roll-cart system that also uses smaller bins for glass recycling that residents typically place curbside less frequently, often monthly. But we still have room for improvement, particularly in properly disposing of plastic bags. (Keep them out of recycling carts; they clog the sorting machinery).

Waste disposal officials also preach another doctrine besides just the value of recycling: Reducing all amounts of waste by following as closely as possible the recommendation to "Reduce-Reuse-Recycle." The best source of recycling information in Clark County is http://www.co.clark.wa.us/recycle/. Here are a few tips from that online source.

Holidays -- Save and reuse gift boxes, bags and wrapping. Use wrapping paper that has no foil, so that it can be recycled. At holiday parties, use reusable plates and utensils. Set up a recycling station for guests. Keep food portions reasonable and ask guests to bring reusable containers to take home leftovers.

Large household items -- Visit http://www.2good2toss.com for details about listing or looking for reusable large household items and building materials.

Stop junk mail such as catalogs and phone books -- Two good online sources to remove your name from catalog mailing lists and phone book delivery services are http://www.CatalogChoice.org and http://www.YellowPagesOptOut.com.

Buy recycled goods whenever possible -- Consumer demand drives up the prices of recycled materials, which increases enthusiasm for recycling, which lessens pressure on landfills.

Topping the 50 percent rate for recycling is cause for celebration. We've come a long way from those days when only schoolkids and staunch environmentalists cared about recycling. Common sense and the effects of social pressure are kicking in, so let's take our collective recycling capabilities to even greater heights. Spread the news: We really don't need all this stuff.