Recycling unrest

A plastic jug and a light bulb, neither of which should be recycled with glass, sit in a pile of clear glass at Sanitary Disposal Inc. in Hermiston in 2017.

When the word “environment” comes up in mixed company (and in this case, I mean Republicans and Democrats), it generally doesn’t take long for the conversation to devolve into an argument about whether man-made climate change exists.

That is unfortunate. You can completely set climate change science aside and still have dozens of reasons why we all benefit from being better stewards of the Earth’s resources.

Polluted air, water and food contribute to health problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health effects of air pollution costs the United States roughly $6.5 billion each year through problems, such as increased emergency room visits for asthma. Scientists are also concerned about how pollutants, such as microplastics, pesticides and pharmaceuticals, make their way into our food and water are affecting our bodies.

In an in-depth investigation into radioactive fracking waste of the kind that companies were recently fined for dumping illegally near Arlington, Rolling Stone stated, “Expert testimony in lawsuits by dozens of Louisiana oil-and-gas industry workers going back decades and settled in 2016 show that pipe cleaners, welders, roughnecks, roustabouts, derrickmen, and truck drivers hauling dirty pipes and sludge all were exposed to radioactivity without their knowledge and suffered a litany of lethal cancers. An analysis program developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined with up to 99 percent certainty that the cancers came from exposure to radioactivity on the job ... in every case the workers won or the industry settled.”

Scientists say deforestation and other types of habitat destruction also fuel disease by creating more contact between humans and certain types of animals, creating increased opportunities for new pandemics and fostering ideal conditions for certain disease-carrying pests.

In a recent episode of “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver used the example of Lyme disease, first discovered in Connecticut in the 1980s. According to disease oncologist Richard Ostfeld, interviewed for the show, the probability of a tick picking up Lyme disease when it feeds on a white-footed mouse is about 90%. As forestland was turned to suburbs, most mammal species began disappearing from those areas, other than the white-footed mouse — making it the meal of choice for ticks and boosting the number of ticks carrying Lyme disease.

“As we reduce diversity, we’re losing the species that protect us and favoring the ones that make us sick,” Ostfeld said.

We must also face the reality that the Earth has finite resources and limited areas in which to dump waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States threw out 35.7 million tons of plastic alone in 2018, only 3 million tons of which was recycled.

If none of that is a motivator, on a personal level, being environmentally conscious is also a money saver. The savings from simple conservation efforts — such as watering your lawn for limited periods after dark two to three times a week instead of running the sprinklers for hours each day — can add up, along with replacing all light bulbs with LED bulbs, buying energy-efficient appliances, adding insulation, sealing up cracks, replacing old windows and repurposing items instead of throwing them out.

When it comes to the environment, there are a lot of important discussions to be had about the validity of certain strategies to protect it. There are certainly bad ideas out there, and ideas that need to be heavily refined. But at the end of the day, personal efforts at conservation and a societal goal of a cleaner, healthier Earth for all should be a bipartisan issue.

We’re all roommates sharing one big home. We should act like it.

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