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I honestly can't imagine the way things would be without recycling.  The city I grew up in has one of the oldest municipal recycling services in the country and so I've been surrounded by the ideas of recycling for my whole life.  It's been a real culture shock for me to go to from a setting like that to a rural, blue collar town where municipal services aren't provided or even practical.

My dorm has a single computer lab with two printers.  As you can imagine, sharing something with 500 of your closest friends usually ends up with stuff not working like it should.  The printers exact karmic retribution on any student trying to run off a paper ten minutes before it is due by tricking them.  They make all the sounds a printer should make; the whining of the capacitors charging, the drone of the rollers, and the steady scrape of paper running through the internal components.  But HA!, instead of printing off the latest of a long list of plot analyses of All Quiet on the Western Front you're left with a sheet of paper covered sporadically with symbolic gibberish!  Not to mention the fact that when this happens people order it to print again so many times it completely fills the buffer.

This means that the lab goes through reams of paper each week, most of which have only one or two lines of printing on them.  All of these papers migrate to the trash over time, wasting huge amounts of paper that's only barely used.  Buckminster Fuller once said "Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value."  What he meant was that everything has use; that humanity has already taken out of the earth all the resources we will ever need for civilization.  The failure is in the recovery of those resources for useful purposes.  To wit, each ton of paper requires 7000 gallons of water or about half a cup per sheet.  A single tree makes about 12000 sheets of paper meaning that about 6000 sheets of paper end up in the landfill, decomposing to produce methane and CO2, two significant greenhouse gasses.  In addition, the production of paper is uses the third most fossil fuels and the most water of any industry to finish a product.  All of this, while not offset by recycling, can be sharply reduced by the simple act of putting paper into one bin instead of the other.

So, today I tried an experiment; I conspicuously placed a packing box from my room in the computer lab and labeled it for recycling.  Though there are recycling bins just outside the doors of the dorm, few people care enough to go out there to recycle something when they can simply throw it away right where they are.  The key to making recycling effective is to make it a culture and to make it just as accessible as putting something in the trash; to bring recycling to the people instead of expect the people to go to the recycling.  So today I put a packing box that was sitting in my closet on top of the printers in the lab and labeled it for paper recycling.  It may not make a large difference but even small changes add up over time to become something substantial.

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