Here's a knock-knock joke for you: You're
sitting at home one night when the folks at Coca-Cola arrive at your doorstep.
They tell you they're here to collect any empty cans or bottles bearing
the company's name. Now that's funny.
Yet ask any consumer what are the top products recycled in
this country and they'll list three: aluminum cans, bottles and
newspaper. That's funny, because all over the U.S. community recycling
programs do not cater to anyone. No, there aren't any "Coke
people" out there willing to do all the work for you. In Chicago, one has
to go out and pick up special blue recycling bags. So instead of just rinsing
out my empty cans and bottles, tossing them into a reusable container and lugging
them out to the curb--such as the process in my hometown of Naperville,
Ill.--I must drive myself around the bowels of the city looking for these
blue bags. Oh, and when I run out I have to do it all over again. Hey,
can't we recycle the blue bags, too? Is it so much to ask for the
recycling haulers to dump the contents in the truck and return the empty bag to
When you depend on people, whether they live in Naperville,
Chicago, Boston or Los Angeles, to lift another finger and break away from their
routines chances are the results will not be out-of-this-clean-world.
The road paving business, on the other hand, is at your
service. They'll set up a work zone for you, haul in a milling machine or
an excavator with a concrete breaker for you, operate the heavy machinery for
you and haul it away for you.
Over 80% of the asphalt out there is
recycled--considerably more than cans, bottles and newspaper--and I
would guess less than 5% of the motorists out there notice it. Every time
I'm in the car with someone who's a little light on the highway
construction knowledge there usually is a lesson to be shared the second we hit
freshly milled pavement. The school bell usually rings with the simple
question, "Why is the road this way?" I then fire off an explanation
worthy of a shiny apple, telling them how a machine chews off an inch or two of
the surface and the material is trucked back to be recycled. Anything spoken in
Earth Day language is good these days, so I have yet to run into anyone who
isn't satisfied with my recycling rhetoric.
Pavement recycling is taking up more and more miles as the
interstates, state routes and local roads continue to fight a quick aging
process. The Federal Highway Administration recognized the importance of this
process by releasing its recycled materials policy. In it, the FHWA noted how
the National Highway System--160,000 miles strong--is "in need
of major rehabilitation or total reconstruction, and much of the materials used
to build the system can be recycled for use in new construction."
FHWA believes recycling can offer engineering, economic and
environmental benefits and recycled materials should get first consideration in
materials selection. The federal branch also has developed a recycling
"team of champions" that will serve as points of contact for
recycling technology. It's currently partnering with the Recycled
Materials Resource Center, the American Association of State Highway &
Transportation Officials, state highway agency recycling coordinators and state
solid waste management regulators.
But those in the roadbuilding industry really don't
need high-ranking officials running this business. The go-getters are
everywhere. Over 6,000 Basic Asphalt Recycling Manuals (BARM) have been
distributed since its debut in January. According to the Asphalt Recycling
& Reclaiming Association, the BARM "is the definitive reference for
those seeking more information about the technology of (the recycling)
industry. The National Highway Institute also has decided to use the BARM as
the basis for its new recycling course curriculum.
Now is the time for the recycling industry to shine its helmet and lead a major victory. Just don't forget to take a blue bag for all those empty cans and bottles found along the way.