When I first moved to Missoula in 2001 there were more recycling options...or at least it seemed that way.
Even if the city didn’t recycle glass, it usually contracted with some out-of-state company to bring in a huge glass recycling machine a few times a year.
I still remember the thrill of seeing that loud thing at work in Caras Park.
And then there were the department store recycling drop-offs. Shopko had these at the back of their parking lot, huge metal dumpsters you could put old newspapers and other recyclables in.
Now those are long gone.
Missoulians are frustrated by their lack of recycling options, especially after this week’s story about plastic escaping the landfill.
Oh, and let me mention that it’s now been 18 months since Missoula joined the Paris Climate Accord via a City Council resolution.
You might not have known that from all the plastic bags that were littering the highway outside the city this week.
Yeah...Missoulians pretend to care about global warming and the environment, but when push comes to shove, it seems like 90% of them continue to use the plastic bags at the supermarket (nationally, around 40% of Americans were using reusable shopping bags back in 2014).
Talk is easy; action not so much.
Interestingly, people seemed to turn some of that talk into action.
A week after the bags blew out of the landfill, a bunch of people headed down to the Missoula City Council chambers to give their elected officials an earful.
Mostly, they wanted more options when it comes to recycling plastic. They feel the city should lead the way in this.
And they’re smart - they know they can’t do it. The main group pushing it - Precious Plastics - has an office but can’t get funding. Their $5,000 crowdfunding effort “failed to raise the needed money.”
Sadly, the city doesn’t seem to think it has the money...even though it does.
If you look into the city’s 384-page budget for 2019 you’ll find out exactly what the city’s financial picture is. Sadly, none in the local media ever do this.
We know that the city brought in $165 million in revenue last year, and that it spent $171 million, leaving it with a budget deficit of $4.7 million.
So even if we wanted to spend money on recycling this year, we can’t. We already spent more money than we took in. That’s terrible planning by our city, our mayor and our city council.
Also, recycling isn’t really a priority for Missoula. We know this because the word’s only mentioned 9 times in that 384-page budget.
Here’s what those 9 recycling mentions are about:
- “The City is in the infant stages of the All-In-One recycling pilot, which involves, City Hall, Council Chambers, Street Division and Facility and Vehicle Maintenance. Another strategy is preforming [sic] a solar study to gather information about installing solar cells to City facilities to reduce the dependence on purchasing electricity from vendors. Central Services is conducting a baseline zero waste study in conjunction with Republic Services in an effort to decrease the amount of refuse the City disposes of every year.” (p 40)
- “The City has contracted with the Business Improvement District to maintain the garbage and recycle containers within the district [Street Maintenance District #1] and to dispose of any rubbish within the right-of-way of the district” (p 176)
- “The Business Improvement District is charged with maintaining the cleanliness of the Street Maintenance district by picking up the rubbish discarded in the right-of-way and emptying the eighty-six recycling and garbage cans located throughout the district.” (p 176)
- “The Street Maintenance Division will continue to use an asphalt recycler to reduce waste in the landfill and improve service to the community by having hot asphalt available for patching in the winter.” (p 177)
- “The [Wastewater] Utility considers itself a water resource recovery facility with a goal of recovering 100% of the by-products of wastewater treatment including bio-solids and green waste recycle for compost, bio-fuel for electricity and heat, and treated effluent for irrigation.” (p 226)
- “The BID maintenance staff maintains a total of 65 rash and 15 recycling receptacles in Downtown Missoula.” (p 248)
I only listed 6 - the other three have to do with downtown recycling bins and the $250,000 we’ll spend on asphalt recycling this year via capital improvements.
I doubt it’ll be an issue in the next budget.
Oh, we might say we care about recycling...but we don’t put our money where our mouth is.
People are upset with this.
“I would like to ask the council to make the recycling of plastic the first priority of its Zero Waste initiative,” the head of Precious Plastics told the Council.
I think a lot of people agree with him. We know that 166 people liked the Missoula Current article he appeared in, all in the first 24 hours it was up.
But we know it’s a lot easier to hit the ol’ like button than it is to go down to your precinct and vote, or even send the damn ballot in the mail.
Most Missoulians don’t vote, and that’s even more true in off-year elections. I suspect our City Council races this year will have a 30% turnout, if that.
Talk is easy; action not so much.
It’ll take government action on this issue, and probably at the federal level. Cities and states just don’t have the money.
I’ve been harping on this site for years that Missoula needs to recycle its glass, but nothing ever happens.
Mostly, it’s just not profitable to do so.
If you recycle a ton of glass it costs $70 to $90, and you can sell what you recycled for just $10.
Compare that to things like paper and plastic - which can generate $100 a ton when sold - and you can understand why few businesses or governments recycle it.
But is city government in a position to be profitable, or to do what’s best for its citizens?
I think it’s the latter.
Plastic bags are even worse. It costs $4,000 to recycle a ton of those things, and you only earn $32 when you sell that ton.
Looking at each individual bag, we know that it costs 30 cents to clean them up, even though it costs just a penny to produce each bag (it costs 4 to 5 cents to produce a paper bag).
In 2005 the Progressive Bag Alliance was formed to lobby to keep plastic bags in our supermarkets.
The Alliance wants to make sure Americans continue to throw away 100 million plastic bags each year. I have no idea what their finances are, but they did spend $6.1 million to defeat a plastic bag bill in California in 2016.
The environmental ruin this creates is how the Alliance’s businesses make their profits.
Over 24,000 people work to manufacture plastic bags in 344 different plants across this country.
Government isn’t the solution here, for a variety of reasons, but the biggest being their lack of money to recycle in the first place.
Not all governments. In Colorado the city of Monument built an $11 million glass recycling plant that recycles 80 million tons of glass a year.
Just $11 million for that.
It might sound like a lot, but Missoula recently spent $4 million for a pedestrian walking bridge and a few years ago we gave nearly $10 million to the mall developers so they could spruce up their mall before selling it to an out-of-state firm.
So we know we have the tax money, it’s just that we don’t have the political will.
Perhaps that’ll change one day. I think it’ll take a lot more plastic bags on the highway to make that happen, though.