Saturday, February 16, 2013

How to Harness A Passion for Scrap?

Juxtaposed with our pell-mell consumerism (large amounts of trash generated each week, cars burning gas like there's no tomorrow) are periodic demonstrations of a passion for recycling.

This abandoned television offered a good example recently. It's common, though not legal, to put televisions out on the curb with the trash. Sometimes the trash collectors take them, sometimes they observe the law and leave them on the curb.

Sometimes I haul these things back to my carport and take them en masse to the recycling day, but haven't gotten around to it lately. A few days after this particular TV was put out, I saw a guy taking it apart and pulling out the electronics. "What for," I asked.
For the copper, he replied, which he said is worth $3/pound. He claimed there was a pound of copper in there, but it felt like less to me. He carried it back to his SUV around the corner.

All that work for $3? At least what he was doing was quasi-legal, in contrast to the scrap thieves who break into buildings--even new ones that have yet to be sold--and yank out all the wiring, causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage just to get $100 of copper. Nothing seems to be sacred, not even the railings on the front steps of churches in Trenton.

At the same time, given how little payback is required to motivate this frenzy of scrap collection, couldn't this sort of energy be harnessed to improve all the dysfunctional recycling programs in buildings across the town, state and country? Surely some small incentive could be instituted to motivate custodians to put recyclables in the right bin out back, rather than dumping it all in the trash, as so often happens.

If you ask people in charge why they don't incentivise custodians to do the right thing, they'll say that custodians should simply do what they're supposed to do. But many of them don't, and they have a good excuse. People tend to obliviously throw trash in the recycling bins, particularly if the bins are poorly designed or not paired with trash cans. Custodians will simply point to the contamination as reason to throw everything away.  With a little incentive, they could become the advocates for recycling that buildings otherwise lack.

For anyone wishing to get rid of an old TV, state law dictates that televisions need to be taken to one of Mercer County's recycling events, which happen three times a year. (Stores like Best Buy may take them for no charge. Call ahead.)

No comments: