Op-Ed

Worried about Lexington’s recycling woes? Here are some steps we can all take to help.

Lexington, we need to talk. In the recovery community, health is precipitated by honesty. Truth cultivates growth. My training is not in agriculture, or in waste management, but in mental health. I started Seedleaf because I wanted my neighbors to enjoy healthy food, and build life-giving connections with each other and with our earth. We have observed that growing gardens and building soil together through composting has been instrumental in knitting communities together. Since 2009, we have been busy picking up food waste at 35 area restaurants and kitchens, tackling a small part of the food waste component of our city’s waste stream.

So here’s the truth: our community has not done a great job prioritizing or supporting the city’s recycling efforts. Many of us engage in “wish-cycling,” a phenomenon wherein a person thinks:

I am a good person. I live in an enlightened town. Therefore, anything I put in our blue recycle bin will not end up in a landfill.

Such wishful thinking severely taxes the Municipal Recycling Facility (MRF) as they sift out all those items for which there is no market--old garden hoses, plastic shopping bags, etc. Taxpayers pay for this sifting, and over 20% of what we send to the MRF ends up at the landfill anyway. Wish-cyclers (myself included!) would do better just to set those yogurt cups directly into solid waste bins.

We have a problem not because we are wishful or terrible people. We simply prize convenience. Shipping our waste to other countries has been the choice we have relied on for some time. Now, we have to be honest about the new reality of global demand for America’s trash: that there is no global demand for America’s trash. What we have been doing is not working and we need to change our behavior.

So we at Seedleaf are glad to propose a few things. Of course we cannot offer free pick-ups of all of the paper waste that the Division of Waste Management (LFUCG) is temporarily not picking up. We cannot offer such an easy and convenient rescue plan. Instead, these are local small scale solutions. They are simple, but not easy and they will require some sacrifice.

Compost at home. Anyone with the privilege of a yard can spare 10-20 square feet for a simple compost bin to process your home waste. You can spend a lot on a fancy container, or you can invest $20 and some time to make one. There are designs online, or you can learn with Seedleaf at upcoming Compost 101 classes.

Compost with neighbors. We currently care for two compost drop off points in downtown Lexington. Email seedleafinfo@gmail.com to get a list of the paper materials we do and don’t accept, and to find out where these drop-offs are located.

Subscribe to the Compost Carpool. We accept a range of paper products from home composters. You can sign up for monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly pickup service, depending on your household’s need. Visit seedleaf.org to get started.

Buy less stuff. This is the first R in the old ‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle’ mantra. Reduce, like prevention, carries way more bang for the buck than does Recycle. We need to let our grocers know that we don’t need a big plastic net sack of potatoes, or any one-use plastic or paper thing.

Seedleaf’s composting program is not the solution to our city’s recycling woes. It is unfair for the nonprofit community to fill vacuums created when municipalities abdicate responsibility for critical services. However, we do have a contribution to make. Like any non-profit leader, I anticipate a day when Seedleaf’s work is completed. On that day everyone will have access to fresh local produce and anyone who wants to will be able to compost their home food waste and paper products. It is my hope that this week’s bad news from the Division of Waste Management is just the next step toward that day.

Ryan Koch is the founder and director of Seedleaf. His background in mental health (MA Counseling) remains a major motivator for his involvement with the organization. Email him at ryan@seedleaf.org.

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