If you build it, they will come. It may have worked for Kevin Costner in ``Field of Dreams,'' but it's not a concept that works well in the solid waste industry, particularly in recycling.
Despite intensive efforts to achieve high recycling rates with plastics, major obstacles remain.
Walk into a mixed-material recovery facility and you see workers hand-sorting a variety of materials. Paper picked off the conveyor and tossed in one bin, PET bottles in another, high density polyethylene jugs in a third. But what's that moving down the conveyor toward the reject pile? Otherwise recyclable plastic bottles with caps still on them.
The system's there, but it doesn't work.
In its bid to end ocean dumping of plastics, the U.S. Navy plans to invest about $238 million to equip ships with pro-cessors that will compact the material into disks for storage until the ships reach land.
The technology's great, but the results aren't.
It turns out that sailors have been pitching all their trash in the processors, creating a compacted mass of plastic, paper, metals and putrefying food.
The technology's there, themarket's there, but the system still doesn't work.
The answer isn't to build a better plastic trash compactor or a better material recovery facility. But it does require what can be an initial hefty investment.
The people in Halifax County, Nova Scotia, may have part of the answer. They've created a rather ambitious waste diversion plan, with a goal of diverting 88 percent waste from landfills by 1999. Unrealistic? Perhaps. But an important plank in their plan is a $740,000 annual effort to educate the public in the recycling effort.
County officials realize that building a new landfill and composting and recycling facilities alone won't get the job done. They need a supportive and educated public.
Time will tell whether Halifax County can meet its objective. But even if it fails, it's likely to move much further ahead than communities that ignore the public's participation.
Who should make the investment to educate the general public and others ultimately responsible for appropriate disposal of recyclables? Public agencies are taxed to provide even the most basic public services, so it must be up to private industry - those companies that directly benefit from recycling's growth - to invest in not only the buildings and technology, but also the education to make the system work.
Charles is managing editor of Waste News, a sister publication of Plastics News.