Monday, November 23, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015

China's Impact on Local Metal Scavenging


Living on a busy street may not be everyone's idea of happiness, but for someone who hates to see things go to waste, it offers a chance to contribute to the recycling of scrap metal. In my neighborhood, I play the role gravity plays in a watershed, transporting discarded metal objects from side streets out to my curb along the main artery, where they are more likely to be swept away by scrap metal guys who periodically drive by.

When China's economy was cooking, and scrap metal prices were high from overseas demand, this metal would have disappeared within hours. Recently, it took five days--an unheard-of lag time on Harrison Street. Maybe we have a new indicator of economic conditions overseas. No need to listen to business reports. China's economic downturn can be read right here on a Princeton curb.


On the other hand, even though it takes more than 100 pounds of steel to make a dollar at a junkyard, this rusty file cabinet was gone in a day. Maybe someone really needed a file cabinet, rusty or not.

I have one of the scrap guys' number, and could call him up, but that would likely cause him to go out of his way to come by, burning more gas. There's satisfaction in feeding the serendipity of others by giving these otherwise landfill-bound hunks of metal a chance to circle back into usefulness.

(For some scrap metal talk, with a dramatic chart showing how prices have dropped by half this year, here's an article. Its commodity-talk brought back memories of my school cafeteria, where a black and white TV hung above one of the tables, bearing the latest up or down in hog futures as I ate my liverwurst and lettuce sandwich.)


Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Dumpsters Tell All


You can tell a lot about a building by taking a walk around back and looking at the dumpsters. What's the ratio of trash dumpsters to those for recycling? At this apartment building in the neighborhood, Nassau Arms, the ratio is 1 to 2, meaning there's an emphasis on recycling.

At the Princeton High School, the ratio is 3 trash dumpsters to only 1 for recycling. This a pretty poor ratio, since it suggests that three times as much gets landfilled as gets recycled.

The disparity in recycling performance may reflect the different uses of the buildings, residential vs. school, or the contrast in people's behavior in private and public places. In general, people seem to be much better about recycling at home than in public, where there seems to be little sense of personal responsibility to keep trash and recyclables separate. But the low recycling rate at the high school may also reflect a lack of ongoing promotion of recycling. In a public space, all the steps in the recycling chain must function well. All participants--students, staff and custodians--need to do their part. With all those "moving parts", this living system of recycling can't just be instituted and left to run unattended. It takes ongoing monitoring and intervention to fix breakdowns, and that sort of ethic and sense of responsibility must come from the leadership.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Scary Compost Graveyard


This was going to be my Halloween post, showing the very scary gravestones where members of the Compost family, Current and Finished, are slowly decomposing in a friend's backyard. People will tell you that Current was something of a mixed bag--often fruity with a hint of banana peel, she was immature and would vegetate for long periods if she didn't get her way. Finished is remembered fondly for his marvelous sense of humus, his willingness to share his riches, and an uncanny ability to nurture growth wherever he went.

Nature, as we well know, is full of rot, a rot that is tolerated in forests, fields, and even in yards that are not blown clean of organic debris, but when conspicuous decomposition such as this is allowed to occur close to human settlements, we know full well what comes next. Flowers my friends. Lots of them. And healthy trees. Insects, too, hidden under the leaves, and that can mean only one thing: food for birds. We should be very, very afraid.