279 Days in the Mountains: Recycling, All the Boulderites Are Doing It

I previously wrote about trash and I think it’s about time for a follow up post concerning recyclables. For most of history, trash has just been trash. But if you know anything about Boulder, you won’t be surprised that Boulder is front and center in zero waste initiatives. Every building in the city is filled with waste stations that require you to stand around for five minutes trying to figure out which bin each item in your hand belongs in until you just give up and chuck it all in the landfill bin anyways.

I’m not anti-recycling and I don’t hate the environment, but I am selfish. Recycling has to be easy and time-efficient or I can’t be bothered. The house I rented before I moved in with my partner had a big single-stream recycling bin that I could dump everything in and take down to the end of my driveway every two weeks, so I recycled everything. When I moved in with my partner, our first condo had no onsite recycling, so everything went in the trash. Our next condo had recycling for cardboard, so cardboard got recycled and everything else went in the trash. Now we live in the mountains where there is no recycling, so you might think that once again, everything goes in the trash.

That’s where you’re wrong. In addition to easy and time-efficient processes, I’ll get on board with those that positively impact my finances. We pay per bag to have our trash picked up. $6.47 per bag. Of course, we have always paid for trash pick up, but when you live in a city, it gets built into other fees and taxes and you just don’t notice as much. Or, if you do notice, there’s nothing you can do about it but pay. And since you pay a flat fee, it doesn’t matter how much you throw out. We used to fill up a 16-gallon bag almost every single day. We get a lot packages mailed to us and between the two of us, we drink enough to keep an entire liquor store in business. All the waste went in the trash – bottles, packaging materials, whatever we had.

But now that we have to deal with our waste more directly, and more importantly, pay for it more directly, our tune has changed. Recycling is free, so, magically, we have become ardent supporters of recycling even though it’s not convenient. And while I won’t pretend I’ve become an environmentalist, excess packaging now drives me insane. Take, for example, the dog food that I bought from Thrive Market a few weeks ago. Rather than coming boxed in 12 packs, as is the norm for cans of dog food, the cans came in twos, each pair wrapped in 3+ feet of two different kinds of wrapping. Let’s set aside the fact that it probably took me 20 minutes to unwrap and put away my order because of this insane packaging. I had to break down all the packaging, store it, load it up into the car later, and drive it down to the recycling center on the other side of town.

And let’s talk about that effort for a minute. Without taxes and fees, it isn’t fair to expect a service, in this case recycling pickup. But if these Boulderites really are so environmentally aware, you’d think the city council would recognize the value in having pickup. The cost to the environment every time I go to the recycling center is not insignificant. It’s 24 miles round trip. People, like us, who live on unmaintained dirt roads don’t drive Priuses (Priusi?). We drive gas guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs. I haven’t found any concrete data about how many households there are in unincorporated Boulder county. The best I found was that there are 120 unincorporated subdivisions, so let’s just say that each subdivision has 11 households like mine does. If all of those 1,320 household make the 24 mile round trip (which is probably a good average since we aren’t the furthest out but we certainly aren’t the closest either) once a month in their inefficient vehicles, what’s the impact to the environment there? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the county to just have vehicles come around and pick up our stuff for free?

I don’t know. I’m not pretending this a scientific study I’ve done and I know there are a lot of variables at play that would need to be researched. For example,

  • How many households are there really?
  • What kind of cars do people drive?
  • Do people make special trips to the recycling center or do they piggyback that with other errands?
  • Do some people go to the closer recycling centers? Yes, there are two that are closer but they are open very limited hours, instead of 24/7 like the main one.
  • How many people get stuck at the railroad crossing directly in front of the recycling center and let their car idle for 15 minutes while a 100+ car train goes by at three miles an hour? Yes, this happened to us the first time we went.
  • For that matter, how many people let their car idle while they are dumping all their recycling in the containers? Yes, we do that. Like I said, our newly found dedication to recycling is fueled not from some desire to save the planet but from attempt to minimize the impact of our shopping and boozing to our wallets.

If anyone wants to waste a month of their lives collecting the data and doing the calculations, please do and send me the info. Inquiring minds want to know. In the meantime, if you come to visit us bearing gifts, kindly leave the packaging at your own house. I really don’t want to deal with it.

3 thoughts on “279 Days in the Mountains: Recycling, All the Boulderites Are Doing It

  1. As usual, lots of untended consequences with all the ordinances that get passed. You have a lot of valid points.

    One thing I know – my ex was a garbageman for a major waste handler, and I know garbage companies hate recycling with a purple passion, because it’s nearly all expense for them and very little, if any, profit. That’s why they want the consumer to do the sorting, otherwise it comes out of what little profit they might make.


    1. I always wondered how single stream made sense. Seems incredibly complicated on the company side. You comment confirms that. When I lived in South Korea, everyone had about 8 different bins in their houses for all the different kinds of recycling. Took up a lot of space but it was required!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, it’s not exactly single stream, when you consider that they do residential pickups, as well as commercial and industrial. There’s a lot more to garbage than people realize, lol, and I learned far more when I was married to him than I ever really wanted to know. He was one of those who lived and breathed his job, and … brought his work home with him.


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