Recycling, Libraries, and Using Things Just To Show They’re Needed

I heard someone casually reference the other day that they knew they had reached middle class when they no longer needed the library. And I get it – I went YEARS after getting my first job out of college before using the library. It was such a good feeling to be able to just BUY BOOKS for a change. Sometimes from used books stores, sometimes brand new from B&N or Target, but NEVER from the library. EVER. Until Eliah wanted to check out books…then we finally started going back because I wasn’t making enough money to fund BOTH of our reading habits.

But over the last two years as my running declined, my reading has increased and since we downsized I no longer want to buy books that I don’t love and want to keep forever. I still buy them, but rarely. So I’ve become a huge user of the library and when I lost my job it became my office to try to do free-lance work or to look for jobs or to write. I also try to enjoy events put on by my library on a regular basis and I even hit up other branches when I have errands to do in other parts of town. Not necessary because I want to check out books from there, but because every time you walk through the door, you are telling your community: PLEASE KEEP FUNDING THIS PLACE THAT MAKES NO MONEY WHATSOEVER.

And often, that is the point. The point is that just going to the library – ideally to check out a book because those numbers are important – sends a message to your city and your state that this facility is important enough to keep funding. And while YOU may not need it, a lot of people in your community do. For some it’s their only way to access the internet. For many it’s their only way to access books. And for a select few, especially in the winter, it’s a warm retreat from homelessness. If your library is not valued by the people who make decisions in the community, then the funding will decline. My library is cool and I want everyone to know that so that no one doubts for ONE SECOND the value of it.

I tend to think this way about the recycling center in our city as well. Recycling is a weird industry. Most recycling is run by private industries and therefore needs to be profitable. In some parts of the country this profit is partly kickbacks from governments to encourage or reward recycling efforts. In some parts of the country it’s just profitable in creating raw resources to be used by other industries. (You see this a lot in paper products.) Some companies do things like make recycled walkways out of glass or something similar and hope that the end user will find enough value in having the unique “MADE FROM RECYCLED GLASS” product that they’ll pay a price that covers the cost of recycling.

A lot of people (my Dad included) question the value of recycling. It takes a lot of energy and resources to recycle, and depending on where you place “value” on the act of recycling, you can find plenty of research to support NOT recycling if you are doing it just to preserve resources. For some materials, you might end up using more energy recycling a material than you would just creating a new one. HOWEVER, if you’re using electricity to avoid making more plastics from fossil fuels, you may consider that a good tradeoff. Or, if you simply don’t want your trash in a landfill, then you may place that value over the supposed cost of recycling.

(PRO TIP: If you’re someone who has decided NOT to recycle and you live somewhere like Alabama that doesn’t punish you for that decision, don’t try to discourage other people from recycling by telling them your reasoning, okay? That’s just not cool.)

In Alabama, we are not really a state with any built in support for recycling or punishment for NOT recycling and our city just does the bare minimum, picking up SOME plastic and SOME paper but NO glass. And there are no rewards for recycling or punishments for not. Huntsville does have a GREAT waste-to-energy facility which means our landfill usage is very low, but what’s acceptable at the curb is about as minimum as you can find in most big cities. There are bins in areas around town where you can take your glass and things like corrugated cardboard so I collect those things for periodic trips when I’m needing to be in that area anyway.

Do I think recycling saves energy in the total sum of things? Maybe not. Maybe so. Am I at least avoiding the landfill? Not with our great waste-to-energy facility. Am I conserving resources by encouraging the use of recyclable products over made-fresh? Maybe. I’m not sure.

But what I am doing is sending a message every time I put my bin out, or every time I visit a drop-off bin. I’m saying, “RECYCLING IS IMPORTANT TO ME AND AN INCONVENIENCE I AM WILLING TO TAKE ON.” When the city is trying to decide how to manage waste disposal, or private industries are trying to decide whether or not to get into the recycling game, me putting my bin on the street, or bringing my glass to the drop-off location sends the message that THIS IS IMPORTANT TO SOMEONE. And sometimes, just like with the library, that is the most important message you can send your community.

I just think these ideas get lost on people in cities that support their libraries and their recycling with funding and incentives. But for some of us in underfunded states, programs like these get the chopping block if they are not being used. So I would encourage you to show your support however you can, regardless of whether or not you NEED to the library or BELIEVE in recycling.

Because a community that has a great library and that supports recycling is one that carries a message that it cares about it’s citizens and it’s environment. And that’s never a bad message to deliver.