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Murdock: Recycling and international trade

By George Murdock

Umatilla County Commissioner

Published on January 12, 2018 10:49AM

Being a local politician keeps a person in touch with the constituency.

Whether it is the grocery store, going out to eat, trying to work out at the gym, social functions, service club meetings or church, it’s hard to be there just for the intended purpose. I guess it comes with the territory.

But all of that being said, after one particularly interactive day I came home thinking that perhaps a trip to Pendleton Sanitary Service’s recycling center near Fallen Field might be an escape.

Shortly after arrival, we met a new resident who was trying to figure out what to do with her plastic. We tried to politely inform her that China had stopped taking plastic and so there were problems disposing of it at the recycling center.

Frustrated, she tried to figure out what China had to do with getting rid of her plastic. My wife explained that it would appear China had historically consumed a lot of America’s plastic but that was no longer the case. The lady wondered if it was political and were they mad at President Trump? We tried to assure her that while international relations may not be at a high point in our history, that didn’t include his desire to deny our plastic to nations that might find a use for it.

“Well,” she advised us, “the last she had heard they were taking it in another state.” My wife reminded her China hadn’t specified any particular states and they probably weren’t exempt from the new rules which we think went into effect the first of the year.

In fact, China has historically consumed a great deal of the world’s plastic and turned it into a variety of products. As the citizenry of that country has become more westernized, they have adopted our recycling habits and now have enough of their own plastic. Importing more would give them the same disposal issues now confronting the United States.

About this time, a gentleman drove into the recycling lot in a pickup with two dogs in the back. He announced he was training the dogs to stay in the truck. It was apparently early in the training routine because the dogs found the full expanse of the center full of interesting smells and discoveries.

He joined the discussion of “What, no plastic disposal?” Again, the conversation led to the fact China was no longer accepting plastic and were they mad at President Trump? He said “You know, it’s a petroleum product,” as he simultaneously tried to control the dogs that were circling through our legs. He never explained the relationship between the fact it was a petroleum product and the new rules, although we said we thought there was another reason.

In both cases, while we were all weighing important international issues surrounding plastic exportation, no one recognized us and so we didn’t have to explain the role of Umatilla County in this matter. In truth, the county has no jurisdiction over international plastic trade or relations with China but that is never a total sanctuary.

I admittedly arrived later than some to the values of recycling for reasons I won’t elaborate on at this point. But having emerged from the important debate surrounding plastics, China, and the president, the experience led to a few other discoveries.

• 20,000,000 Hershey kisses are produced every day consuming 113 square miles of tin foil — most of which is recyclable — who knew?

• It took 500,000 trees to produce last Sunday’s newspapers.

• If all newspapers were recycled, we could save 250 million trees a year.

• We produce 350,000 aluminum cans per minute. If the can is thrown away, it is still a can 500 years from now. If it is recycled, six weeks from now it will be part of a new can and there is no limit to how many times the process can be repeated.

I learned a little in the process even if it wasn’t a total escape and in some ways, simply focusing on the subject of plastics served as a distraction from the normal visit to the recycling center.

Many times fellow visitors to the center are vigilant with regard to infractions such as slipping cardboard into the newspaper bin, putting glass in the tin can container, or simply dumping everything into one container or even next to a container believing that just taking it to the recycling center in the first place is a sufficient contribution to saving Mother Earth.

And, with the temperature hovering below 30 degrees, the visit was safer than previous occasions like the time a visitor with a truck load of empty bottles, at least one of which had been consumed recently, parked fifty yards away and began aiming at the glass container and throwing the bottles in that general direction one at a time.

There is some pressure for curbside recycling but that would eliminate the opportunity for us to join with our neighbors in a social and political setting on behalf of improving our environment.

George Murdock is a Umatilla County Commissioner.


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