My brother Ken was among the early organizers of recycling centers. He established the first recycling center in our Los Angeles suburban town in 1970, at the high school where we were students.
Household recycling has its annoyances, but in Santa Barbara County, more than two-thirds of trash is diverted from the landfill by our efforts. Recycling saves mountains of space and money. Besides dump diversion, wood chips and mulch from “green can” pickups transform garden waste into moisture-preserving, nutritious and weed-abating groundcover that’s practically free. You still have to shovel it into your garden and spread in around your plants.
The diversion rate does not account for reuse before items hit the bins. Reuse via Craigslist and Nextdoor is popular for items from baby clothes to trucks. Donations to Transition House, Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army, Goodwill and Alpha Thrift Stores save households money and reduce resource use. Another effective diversion technique is taking advantage of e-waste days (coming soon: April 28-29 in the Sears parking lot).
Some of my favorite recycling stories are big items that are repurposed rather than trashed. The temporary pier at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island is a recycled flatbed railroad car. Flatbeds also have been used frequently for short-span bridges. With a discerning eye, you can spot many of these in the county. Auto tires are still mostly burned, but often find a new life melted into “crumb rubber modifier,” which is used in cement and even new tires.
Storage units have been repurposed as micro-houses in cities more cramped for space than Santa Barbara. Most of their residents are dedicated minimalists, but the units make a lot of sense for densely packed cities and low-cost housing. Tiny houses also save resources: California is the top tiny-house state, with one Montecito house recently featured in Forbes.
Blue & Green Day highlights a different type of tiny thing recycled to make a big difference. It recognizes the uniquely selfless recycling of human organs, eyes and tissue.
California’s rate of donor designation lags most states, but research is underway to determine how to increase donation designation with social interventions. One study examines how to increase the percentage of teenagers who designate as donors when they first apply for a driver’s license. Other research includes ways to reach out to populations for which designation was historically against the cultural norm, as for Asians, Hispanics and blacks.
In the best recycling, everybody wins. People in need of household goods acquire them at reduced cost. Large structures are repurposed without burdening the Earth with more “stuff.” Organ donation registration offers the same win-win. People with life-threatening diseases get another chance at life, while grieving family members are consoled with the fact that their loved one’s death saved the lives of many.
Blue & Green Day and Earth Day are about sharing the American Dream, in the very best senses of the word.
— Karen Telleen-Lawton serves seniors and pre-seniors as the principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara. You can reach her with your financial planning questions at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.