Remember Recyclable Glass? Now It’s Plastic
By Denny Bonavita
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Thirty years ago, when I first came to work at the Courier-Express in DuBois, I suggested in a column that the country would be better off if state and national governments required sellers of soft drinks that came in glass bottles to require deposit fees on those bottles. The idea was — and is — to encourage recycling.
In glass-speak, “recycling” meant, “lost jobs.” Nearby Brockway, 10 miles north of DuBois, was a national hub of the glassmaking industry in those days. I was … umm … criticized.
Last week, I came across this nugget of news via the internet: “The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig, Dr. Pepper and PepsiCo, are working together to reduce our industry’s plastic footprint through our new Every Bottle Back initiative.
“We’re investing in efforts to get our bottles back so we can remake them into new bottles and use less new plastic.”
Back in the 1990s, the real threat to glass bottles turned out to be, not recycling, but plastic containers.
Plastic containers weigh less than glass containers. They can be shipped for less cost. Though plastic containers can and do leak, they usually do not shatter.
So bottlers turned to plastic, which really put a crimp into the glassmaking industry centered on Brockway but spread out through Brookville, Clarion and St. Marys.
But a small silver lining appeared along with that cloud. Fewer heavy, sharp-edged, dangerous empty glass bottles or parts of glass bottles came to litter our nation’s highways.
Some of that reduction in litter came because Americans became a bit less piggish in our habits. For a while, we cleaned up our act and threw fewer containers out of motor vehicle windows, be they bottles made of glass or plastic, empty cigarette packages or the cigarette butts themselves, or candy wrappers.
But then a funny thing happened. It is the same thing that happens every five years or so.
The “younger generation” grew up — and along came another younger generation, indifferent to the environmental and esthetic harm done by throwing things out of motor vehicle windows.
Litter went up — and down, and back up again, and down, and so on and so forth.
This is still happening, though disposable COVID-inspired single use facemasks are showing up with disturbing regularity along roadsides. I suppose that is an “improvement” over the once-frequent sight of discarded condoms, though my guess is that other methods of birth control — and the availability of beds and bedrooms instead of vehicle backs seats as America’s sexual tolerances changed — are responsible.
Litter bothers me.
It does not upset me, or get me fully angry.
I get livid at today’s political polarization of our communities, pitting friends and family members at each other’s throats over something as stupid as partisan politics. There are two kinds of politicians. There are a very few statesmen, and a great many political hacks, of both major political parties. Yes, we need to get involved, understand what is going on, make our views known and vote for the kinds of changes we support. But we are flat-out stupid to yell at or yell about other people while we do that.
That yelling makes me angry, so much so that, to prove my own kinship with stupid people, I yell back in political chat forums.
But I do not litter.
I stopped littering when my children started to ask me why I would throw the butt end of a filter-tipped Newport menthol cigarette out through the triangular little “wing” window that occupied the front 10 percent or so of my car’s driver-side window space.
But it was not until a few years ago, when retirement induced me to do a decent amount of walking to and from places rather than driving, that I started to pick up litter.
Those of us who pick up litter, occasionally or regularly, do notice the changes in litter-prone stuff, and the fluctuations in quantities of litter.
In hard times, roadside litter amounts go up, sometimes way up. Some people quit paying for trash pickup services, whether that is illegal or not. Of course, the messes they leave along our highways show clearly that they have enough money to buy beer, booze and drugs, even if they don’t seem to have enough money to pay to have their trash collected.
When I read the self-serving announcement by the beverage bottlers (I omitted the introductory phrase, “America’s leading beverage companies”), I wondered whether today’s manufacturers of plastic bottles are criticizing this recycling effort by claiming “Lost jobs!” as was done with the issue of returnable glass bottles in the last century.
Though I am cynical about the companies’ claim that they want to get “Every Bottle Back,” I do hope their efforts reduce roadside litter.
And I wonder what will take the place of those plastic bottles along our berms.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com