Pennsylvania’s futureburied under bottles

April 2, 2014

Now that the snow has melted, the litter along the sides of roads that had been covered by it is once again glaringly visible. Some roads around here, particularly in rural areas, resemble miles-long garbage dumps. There are black plastic bags filled with trash that have been hurled from passing vehicles, along with the bags, styrofoam and wrappings from fast-food restaurants. But the most prevalent form of litter is the beverage container: aluminum cans and plastic and glass bottles.

Some states – 11, to be precise – don’t have quite the same problem that Pennsylvania does because they have enacted beverage-container deposit programs. Nationally, only about 33 percent of aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers are recycled. The remainder end up in landfills or remain in the environment, where an aluminum can will take 200 years to degrade, a plastic bottle will disintegrate in 450 years and a glass bottle will remain for a million years. But in neighboring New York, for example, which requires a 5-cent deposit, 66 percent are recycled.

In Michigan, where the deposit is 10 cents, the recycling rate is 97 percent.

Why doesn’t Pennsylvania have a container deposit program? That’s a good question to ask your state representative.

If you were to get an honest answer, he would tell you that your voice is not so loud and important as those of the lobbyists for the beverage industry, supermarkets and convenience stores.

Their influence is why no “bottle bill” has had a chance to even get out of committee for the last five years.

If you don’t think litter is that much of a problem, consider this: A Keep America Beautiful Report in 2009 estimated that the national cost of litter cleanup is $10.8 billion a year.

Texas was the last state to consider a bottle bill, one that resembled Michigan’s. It’s legislature, however, defeated it in 2011.

Neighboring Maryland, where recycling efforts are widespread, has been considering beverage container legislation.

According to a study published two years ago by the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center, 4.1 billion beverages in containers are sold in that state each year, of which 913 million are recycled.

So, even in Maryland alone, more than 3 billion bottles and cans are making their way into landfills, ground and waterways annually.

Pennsylvania’s response to its litter problem is disgraceful.

PennDOT’s Adopt a Highway program is a failure.

Local government is as indifferent about the problem as is the general public. A few well-meaning people and organizations in Washington and Greene counties have volunteered their time to clean up roadsides and streams, but they have no leadership and little encouragement from their elected officials.

If you are not embarrassed by the litter along our roadsides, then you are probably one of the morons who is tossing trash out his window. The litterbugs are directly at fault, but we can all share some of the blame for our complacency.

If you are embarrassed, and angry, let your voices be heard. Enough of them might be enough to overpower those of the lobbyists.

And if your friends or neighbors ask for help in clearing trash from streets and streams, show up.



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