On the EDge: Recycling should be mandatory

OPINION – It’s not easy being green.

Of course, doing the right thing isn’t always easy.

Led by Mayor Jon Pike, St. George city officials are trying to do the right thing, but are falling just shy of the mark.

Pike is the muscle behind a proposal to create a countywide recycling program.

It makes sense, of course, to take measures to preserve our environment, and Pike and the council should be applauded.

They should also be prodded to take the proposal a step further and make the program mandatory without allowing residents to opt out.

Bulging landfills and the dangers involved with emitting gases into the air and pollution to the groundwater mean we have to seriously do something about the mountains of trash we throw away daily.

It’s irresponsible to keep digging holes and filling them with garbage. Still, a certain segment of the population looks upon recycling as an unnecessary practice adhered to only by hippies and tree huggers. It’s a political and cultural thing for many who also fail to acknowledge the implications of global warming and the environmental unbalances that threaten future generations.

That’s why this could be a more difficult nut to crack.

Recycling isn’t that tough. All it takes is separating the organics you scrape from your dinner plate from the inorganics that can be repurposed. It is fairly effortless. All it takes is an understanding that what you are doing will help protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Look, if any state in the Union should have an understanding of how damaged the environment can become by man it should be Utah. Even after looking back to the Cold War arms race and nuclear detonations at the nearby Nevada Test Site that dumped poison on its residents – killing many here and across the nation – Utah has developed an abysmal environmental record, whether in the way it pursues fossil fuels or by allowing companies to store nuclear waste within its boundaries.

In other words, there’s more lip service given to protecting the environment than practical effort.

We’ve seen it locally. Those who opted for solar power years ago because of its conservation principles and budget savings could now see themselves facing additional charges, not because the program doesn’t work, but because it works too well.

There was a token push and some incentives were given to those who switched to solar power. As more and more people signed on, it created a situation where the power company started losing revenue. Instead of rewarding people for their efforts and investment, they find themselves being asked to make up the dollars lost by the power company.

That’s not being environmentally responsible, that’s just plain being stupid.

Progress across the nation has been slow in fixing the environment thank to the power of Big Oil, the automobile industry, and Corporate America’s lobbyists who insist there’s nothing to fix. We see a lot of that in politically conservative Southern Utah, where the science of the environment is not accepted by many residents who argue that there is no danger, there is no global warming, there is no end to the fossil fuel chain. They are unwilling to make the kinds of sacrifices, or even simple changes, to preserve the planet.

The biggest argument is that it’s expensive and takes too much time to develop alternative energy or participate in serious recycling programs. Thankfully, some people are not bogged down with such backward thinking. You have to look away from the West, however, to see the impacts being made.

Burlington, Vermont, the state’s largest city, has recently reached the point where its power is 100 percent renewable.

By purchasing the 7.4-megawatt Winooski One hydroelectric project, the Burlington Electric Department can now lay claim to owning or contracting enough renewable energy sources – wind, hydro, and biomass – to fulfill its needs.

The Washington Electric Co-operative, serving customers in northern and central Vermont, has also reached the 100 percent renewable energy milestone.

The state has a goal of getting 90 percent of its energy – electricity, heating, and transportation – from renewable sources by 2050.

The conversions in Vermont did not occur overnight. But, elected officials there were doggedly determined to see their programs through and make them work.

The Vermont energy programs are not totally without a carbon footprint. Woodchips and other residue from the state’s highly regulated logging industry are burned to generate power. While it still results in emissions, they are cleaner and smaller than coal-fired plants.

Energy prices are, and will remain, stable there, and not at the mercy of fluctuating fossil fuel costs. And, there’s also a small bump financially as Burlington figures to save $1 million a year over the next 20 years.

It wasn’t easy and, in fact took about 10 years for Burlington to get to where it is now. But, city officials were determined. They found money and people interested in helping them pull it off and didn’t give up when things got dicey.

The bottom line is that St. George, because of its geography, could do a lot more than Burlington, Vermont did to convert to renewable energy sources.

St. George sits on the edge of a big, empty desert where there is considerably more wind and sunlight than Burlington, which is located near the Canadian border.

But Burlington did it step by step, realizing it could not make the change overnight. It was a matter of not only having the vision to set the goal, but the patience and tenacity to stick to the plan that led them to the goal.

Could they do it in St. George?

Of course.

Will they?

It depends.

If city leaders wait for recycling and power alternatives to generate from constituents, it could be a long time because of the prevailing political and cultural attitudes.

If, however, the feds start handing down tougher clean-air, environmentally friendly mandates it will happen a lot sooner.

Why put off the inevitable?

Southern Utah officials should make recycling mandatory and not offer the option of opting out.

It only makes sense.

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Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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  • Billy Madison March 10, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Ed, just reading your headliner and seeing the word Mandatory raised my hackles and I was ready for a fight. But reading your reasoning made sense and calmed me down. Nobody likes to be told they “have” to do something. Perhaps if those pushing for recycling explained it like you did then more of us would be willing to climb aboard.

  • Sapphire March 10, 2015 at 9:39 am

    Lol! A wandering mind at work… an article on recycling turned into a rant against Nevada nuclear testing, big oil, and electric price hikes for solar users. Talk about going off on a tangent! As far as recycling goes… if it is an excuse for hiking our trash cost then forget it. If the fee doesn’t go up then I’d do it. If the landfill is too close to drinking water then change it! We have hundreds of miles of empty desert around with no one living nearby. Washington County has recycling containers at the stores. Many of us use that system already.

  • anybody home March 10, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Whoever chose that picture didn’t do any favors to the argument or to Ed. I mean, how inflammatory can you get?
    I have no idea how this will play out in Utah or St. George but I’ve lived here long enough to know that anything “mandatory” raises a screaming red flag among a big segment of the locals. They’ll spend money on cigarettes and beer but not a penny more on anything that could make things better for their kids or future generations in the way of preserving the environment.
    Of course, even people in Utah don’t mind “mandatory” traffic laws (although they don’t always obey them) like driving on the right side of the road and stop signs. A lot of people here want “mandatory” laws about marriage and who can be served in a public establishment, but they paint that “mandatory” horse a different color.
    The “nobody’s gonna tell me what to do” attitude here is almost funny because I’m not talking about teen-agers. The attitude gets tied in with conspiracy theories and threats that make a reasonable adult wonder what’s in the water.
    There are a lot of good people, too, who work to do the right thing when the right thing means being part of a community that cares about the whole place and not just what happens in the ward. People who care about the planet and about all their neighbors no matter where or what or who they worship. Or don’t. It’s a strange place to be sure. Just don’t use the word “mandatory.”

    • BIG GUY March 10, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      ANYBODY HOME has been quick–and often correct–to point out when Bryan Hyde leaves his subject and “drives into the ditch.” Seems like she should point out that Ed has left his reasonable argument about the need for recycling and wandered off into his standard “global warming,” solar power and anti-industry rants that inevitably leave him far from his topic and stuck in the ditch.

      • anybody home March 10, 2015 at 4:30 pm

        You’re right, BG, and I’ll cop to the same problem myself with my post here…

  • BIG GUY March 10, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    Ed has lost his way again:

    1) Ed missed the terminology change from “global warming” to “climate change.” The former term was jettisoned when alarmists and true believers discovered that the planet hasn’t warmed in over 16 years. “Climate change” is much safer since that’s been going on for millennia and will continue, even if carbon dioxide emissions go to zero. It provides a safe rationale for whatever the latest government remake of the economy is in fashion.

    2) Solar power only works during daylight, a fact lost on those who insist that their power bills should go to zero. Over half of a electric utility’s costs are fixed meaning they can’t be reduced even if power is needed only at night. Even if we all install solar power and cut our total usage dramatically, we’ll have to pay much higher rates for nighttime power to cover these fixed costs. There is no free lunch, Ed. Enroll in Econ 101.

    3) So Burlington bought a hydroelectric dam and now is 100% renewable. Do you propose that every town in the country do the same? Hydro power is wonderful…but limited by topography and climate. Dams are often opposed by the same folks who want renewable energy. Some environmental true believers have proposed demolishing the Glen Canyon dam. Maybe we should send them up to Burlington to propose that Burlington’s dam be demolished. Wonder how that would play out.

    4) What is the environmental problem that Big Oil is denying exists? No problem was stated. Or are they just convenient whipping boys?

    P.S. I am in favor of recycling and drive to the local bins several times per week. I look forward to recycling curbside. We all are required to do things for the common good; seems like recycling ought to be one of them.

  • ambiancesb March 10, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Dear Ed,

    That is quite an intimidating image you have up on the header of this article. How are you going to enforce this Ed? Do you propose fines? Imprisonment for littering?

    You frighten me, sir.

  • Mesaizacd March 11, 2015 at 2:09 am

    Hey maybe if we all recycled then the price of gas will go down and the planet will cool off and the coyote will catch the roadrunner

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