What’s better than a pound of cure?

There’s lots of hand-wringing these days about our recycling options drying up. It’s been like watching a car crash in slow motion: one town after another cautions its residents that they need not bother separating glass from paper, plastics from cloth, wood from coffee grounds. These days, most of it’s going down in the ground or up in smoke.

Ellsworth got the news last month when City Councilor Steve Beathem advised residents to expect changes in the city’s recycling program.

“It’s just not sustainable the way it is,” Beathem said. Trash that formerly had the merit of being recyclable “does not have a marketplace out there.” What used to be recyclables are now Class A fuels — better than burial, but not much.

Falling prices, occasioned by a drop in international demand and China’s ban on importing plastic waste, have contributed to the present crisis. The delayed opening of the Fiberight trash-handling facility in Hampden hasn’t helped. Waste that was intended for reuse or conversion to energy has been diverted, for now, to a landfill, which was totally not the plan. And even up-and-running recycling operations are throwing in the towel.

What does one do when one can’t recycle?

Ahem: pre-cycle.

It’s a made-up word but the phenomenon is plenty real and gaining traction. It’s like what your mother told you about “an ounce of prevention.” Pre-cycling eliminates the need for recycling and trash disposal by not creating waste in the first place. Sounds a tad utopian, but you might be doing it already if you bring your own cloth bags to the supermarket.

As the word suggests, this is a step we can take before we have to recycle. Packing your lunch in reusable containers instead of buying takeout with all its cartons, cups and plastic is another application that is in common, if not widespread, use. Purchasing items in bulk to reduce use of bags and boxes is another expedient available to shoppers in Hancock County.

Not surprisingly, members of an Ellsworth Green Plan subcommittee already are on the case. They’ve developed a draft ordinance that would limit the use plastic bags in the city. The idea will receive a public airing next Thursday, Oct. 18, from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at City Hall at a panel discussion hosted by the city and the Chamber of Commerce.

Taking up arms against a sea of pollutants begins with baby steps. (Speaking of babies, remember cloth diapers?) A focus on plastic bags may not seem like much, but, as the song says, “If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be.”

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