Monday, June 25, 2007

Green Living Challenge #5: Recycling

I live at Ballston Park, which prides itself on being a green, sprawling, 60-acre garden-style apartment complex.

Unfortunately, Ballston Park has chosen to put just four recycling locations on those 60 acres -- not even one at every trash Dumpster -- and none are within a block of my apartment. It makes my next task in the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment Green Living Challenge pretty annoying:

Recycle all bottles, cans, and mixed paper accepted in your recycling program at least three times a month.

If I lived in a single-family home, I'd be able to put my recycling out on the curb. But like thousands of other apartment and condo residents in Arlington, I'm at the mercy of my building's management.

Luckily for me, I'm a block away from one of Arlington's two recycling centers. I can drop off:
- Mixed paper (includes stuff like cereal boxes, but excludes waxed boxes, i.e. milk cartons)
- Flattened corrugated cardboard boxes
- Scrap metal (don't use that one very often)
Plastics are a common point of confusion. You can only recycle bottles with narrow necks that have a 1 or 2 in the little recycling symbol on the bottom of the bottle. That's mostly beverage containers. You can't recycle yogurt cups, margarine tubs, plastic peanut butter jars, etc. Arlington County's Department of Environmental Services has told me those items aren't as cost-effective to recycle.

While many hardcore recyclers are understandably upset about that, I'm much more concerned about how hard it is to recycle at all if you live in an apartment or condo. Arlington County tried to change the rules last year, but waste haulers flexed their muscle in Richmond and blocked the effort.

There is also very little recycling done in Arlington's bars and restaurants, but not many customers think about that. Once I was at Front Page with a fellow environmentalist and told her that all things being equal, I try to stick to draft beer because bars and restaurants don't recycle empty beer bottles. She didn't believe me. I told her to ask the bartender, so she did, and was shocked when he told her the bottles went in the trash.

If you'd like your favorite bar or restaurant to recycle, ask to speak to a manager the next time you're there. Ask if they recycle. Ask why not. Ask if they know how much more it would cost to recycle. I'm betting that, much like the aforementioned customers, they just haven't thought about it, and a simple inquiry from a customer might get them thinking about it.

You can get more information about recycling at Arlington County's website! You can also track my progress in completing the Green Living Challenge here.

Points for this action: 15
Total points to date: 75
Points needed to complete Green Living Challenge: 100


JP said...

Miles -- I had a similar bar experience at the Bailey's in Ballston this Saturday when we went for a little college football action. The server informed us it was basically miller lite day, so cheap as I am, I went for their deal: five bottles for 15 bucks.

Halfway through the third bottle my wife and I saw they were throwing empties from other tables into the trash. I asked the server about it...she responded that they throw all their trash down the chute and that "maybe" someone from the mall sorts it. Doubtful if you ask me.

Any advice on taking action apart from drinking draft beer and asking managers if they recycle their glass?

I checked the arlington county website and all businesses are required to recycle the two items they use most -- I'm guessing that for restaurants it would be cardboard and kitchen grease.

Good luck with getting your green condo to get recycling bins...

The Green Miles said...

JP, the first thing you should do is ask the manager. Servers generally don't know and don't care (especially at Bailey's, but that's another story). If their lack of recycling makes you inclined to change your spending habits, let them know that. If they DO recycle, let them know you'll be back and bring your friends.

Big picture, I'd contact the County Board at and let them know you'd like to see the county do more to encourage businesses to recycle.

Bryon Powell said...

While easy access to basic recycling is surely worth focusing on, some of us in single family homes would like to take things a step further and recycle plastics other than type 1 and 2 necked bottles. Having done some internet research I haven't found any recycling outlet for this refuse. Have you heard of any options? I'm storing these other plastics up at the moment, but wold like to give them a proper disposal eventually.

BTW, I just came across your blog in my search for the plastics answer and it's great. I'll surely be back.