Recycling in Montgomery!

Back in November 2009, when I was working on my project, “Patchwork: A Chronicle of Alabama in the New South,” I wrote a post about three environment-related stories happening at the time: then-governor Bob Riley making grants to sustain recycling programs, then-agriculture commissioner Ron Sparks moving trucks to clean-burning fuels, and my hometown of Montgomery contracting with a company called Plasma Waste Recycling, who were supposed to turn all of our trash into natural gas. PWR, out of Huntsville, was supposedly going to completely eliminate landfills by turning unwanted garbage into renewable energy! The news was welcome; I offered the following opinion in my blog:

Nothing would make me happier than for Alabama to recast its image as a pioneer in environmentalism, rather than sustaining its current reputation, which is based on being politically and socially backwards. In contrast to current news stories like those that involve anti-gay efforts, these reports about ecologically conscious actions to improve our overall situation are encouraging to read, as an Alabamian. Combining news about grants for recycling, making the state fleet “green,” and eliminating the need for landfills with ideas like the Rural Studio students’ Thinnings Projects to make use of small, unused pine trees could bring Alabama to the forefront of the ecological ideals of the new century.

Well, I don’t what ever happened to old Plasma-whatever, but apparently that 2009 plan didn’t work out. (Their website is a dead link now, and their YouTube channel hasn’t posted anything new in four years.) When we thought that all of our trash would be used by the Plasma-people, curbside recycling was ended in Montgomery, a decision that was necessary during the recession but still lamented publicly. (Here is a WSFA editorial from December 2009 on the subject.) Personally, I had been encouraged by the possibility that Montgomery could recast its image as an eco-friendly innovator, rather than as “the cradle of the Confederacy.” 2009 and 2010 were very bleak years, the peak of the recession, and I guess it was also a bad time for idealism.

So for several years now, I and other Montgomerians who share my views about recycling have had to take a DIY attitude about it. Through the years 2010, 2011, 2012, and into 2013, I gathered and separated my own plastic, aluminum and cardboard, and carried the bags-full up to the big green dumpster behind Huntingdon College’s cafeteria. Some people told me I was wasting my time, hypothesizing that the materials in those green dumpsters were just being put in the landfill with everything else. I wanted to doubt it, since every time I went, they were full to overflowing. I kept looking for new stories about Plasma-whatever, but no news came . . .

Then in June 2013, the announcement was made that Montgomery would be opening the first-of-its-kind recycling facility— not Plasma-whatever but another company. We waited . . . .

An April 16, 2014 editorial in the Montgomery Advertiser titled “Program Makes All Recyclers” begins like this:

Committed recyclers never gave up the practice, but they no doubt are applauding the return of curbside recycling in Montgomery. We certainly are. The new program effectively makes everyone a recycler, and that’s a decidedly good thing for our city and our environment.

The short piece describes the ineffective nature of the original recycling program, why it failed and why it was cut, but then tells about the current deal:

The new program that begins next month is a vast improvement. Residents don’t have to do anything differently when disposing of garbage. Now their trash will go to a private-sector facility that uses optical technology to detect recyclable materials. The company expects to recycle about 60 percent of what it receives, with the remainder going to the city landfill.

This company can take all trash and pick out what can be recycled. Now, even the naysayers are recycling, whether they want to be or not. That facility is opening now, and this week the City of Montgomery restores curbside pick-up of recyclables for those of us who want to do that, too! (Here is the Montgomery Advertiser article from April announcing the restart.)

Too often, we criticize our local governments for what we don’t like, then stay quiet about what we do like. I’m proud of Montgomery’s city government for sticking to idea that recycling is important— because it is important.

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