Word Watch: Waste Miles

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image by Stephanie Glaros

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Noun, plural: The distance detritus travels to be recycled (alternatively, the distance from doorstep to dump); piggybacking on the popular term food miles. We’ve seen scads written about the environmental impact of exported waste—such as heavy metals in e-waste sent to Asia—but we also ought to be considering the footprint of shipping, says Clean Slate (Winter 2008). Many U.S. and European recyclables are shipped for processing overseas, and domestic collection requires gas-guzzling trucks. The eco-equation is complicated, since recycling abroad is still “less” harmful than producing virgin paper, plastic, or glass. One answer is more localized domestic recycling facilities, but resource-hungry countries like China and India are actually importing paper and plastic recyclates, which are considered valuable “raw material.” Reduce and reuse, anyone?