Recycle Rex was a do-good motivational Disney masterpiece from the 80s. Though Rex has largely been forgotten and replaced with newer and sexier characters, a few faithful souls keep his memory alive. Hartford, Connecticut’s Trash Museum may be one of Rex’s biggest fans. After touring the museum, Phil and I sat down to take a load off and enjoy the show. We had the
movie theater sterile auditorium to ourselves, so we held hands and dreamed about snacks.
Unfortunately, Recycle Rex made our blood boil a little bit. As any inspirational Disney film should, the movie follows 6 little dinosaur friends as they try to save their baseball field from being turned into a landfill (and of course, save summer vacation for everyone). Though he momentarily considers that his rampant consumerism may have something to do with the problem, Rex finally learns his lesson: if he just throws everything into the recycle bin, his field will be saved! Catchy lyrics drive the message home in family-friendly Disney glory.
Rex’s adventures were part of a much larger movement in the 70s and 80s to make recycling cool. But unbeknownst to him, Rex was actually being manipulated by larger commercial interests. He became a mouthpiece for single-stream recycling.
Our first clue was that his catchy lyrics mixed up the order of the classic ‘Rs’ – usually Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rex’s lyrics put Recycle first (unfortunately Ann Woodward’s 4th R – Refuse – didn’t make it off the cutting room floor). But after this, in the film’s finale dance scene, Rex throws all his trash into a big purple machine which pumps out clean, new products… illustrating the dream of single-stream recycling at its finest.
After we explain the trash blog to someone, the question Phil and I get the most is whether recycling is just a big hoax – does anything we actually throw into the blue bin get recycled??? It’s a complicated answer that depends on, among other things, where you live, and what type of recycling facility you have. But one thing is pretty clear – single-stream recycling is much less efficient than dual stream (where you sort things out at home). The reason is that when everything is mixed together, things get more contaminated. No fancy sorting technology can sort everything back out perfectly.
Here are some comparisons:
- About 40% of single-stream glass bottles will be turned into bottles again;
- About 90% of dual-stream glass bottles will become bottles again;
- About 98% of deposit glass will turn into bottles again.
- Plastic from single-stream MRFs yield 68-70% utilized end material;
- Dual-stream systems yield about 75%-78%;
- Bales of PET from deposit return systems yield approximately 85%.
In my last post I wrote about how Keep America Beautiful’s ‘anti-littering’ campaign was just a sexy distraction from the problem of trash. I would argue that recycling, especially in the way it is sold in America (throw it in the blue bin and you will be cleansed!), is simply a salve for our consciences…