We voters had a civics test on Tuesday.
And no, I'm not talking about the election of our new governor, though his leadership of a health care company that … ah, never mind. Obviously nobody cares.
I'm talking about the question the County Commission and Utilities Department put to voters: Do you want to join the enlightened world when it comes to recycling?
No, you said, by more than a 2-to-1 margin, we prefer to stay in the dark ages.
We now recycle about 6.5 percent of our trash, while an analysis has shown we could easily bring that up above 50 percent, said utilities director Joe Stapf.
That means that our new $9.5 million landfill cell, which could last us 25 years, will be jam-packed in 15. We're unnecessarily causing aluminum ore to be mined, trees to be cut down, oil to be pumped and turned into plastic.
I'm not sure everybody understands this, though Stapf and his department certainly did their best to get the word out. Failure number one: not studying up on the issue.
Failure number two: hypocrisy. Everybody says they want to streamline government services, and the new automated collection and once-a-week pickup would have been cheaper for the haulers and for us.
The county could have closed its convenience stations. And by not having to pay the contractor that empties the recycling collection bins and by increasing the flow of material, the county probably could have turned a profit on recycling.
Some voters were worried that the bins were too big and cumbersome. But if the people who seemed most concerned about this, elderly residents living alone, removed their recyclables, they could almost certainly get by with one of the smaller bins. These are a lot more manageable than the monsters most of us use now.
There were complaints from people in gated communities, who said they didn't have room to store all the bins. Well, as it stands now, you need at least one garbage can as well as several receptacles for different kinds of materials you recycle. Oh, you mean you don't recycle? You know, that's what I thought.
I guess I can understand why some people want their garbage picked up more than once a week. Stapf heard this a lot. But depending on your neighborhood, you can compost your stinkiest waste. Stapf says he stores his food waste in a freezer until collection day. My experience in a lifetime of forgetting to take my trash out to the street on time is that a few extra days usually doesn't make much of a difference.
Or it wouldn't seem like much of a difference if you cared about the world you're leaving your children and grandchildren. Apathy, in other words. Failure to take on your civic duty.
Though I pity Stapf, with his class of slow learners and attitude cases, he's a patient teacher. He's listened. Some people, for example, told him they liked the convenience stations because that's where they take their old oil and mercury-laden fluorescent light bulbs. He'll try to accommodate them the next time this comes up.
And it will, eventually, because 6.5 percent just isn't acceptable. Stapf's talking about pilot programs, maybe a system of smaller, more convenient collection bins. Anything to get that grade up.