Elgin museum exhibit looks at recycling’s pluses, minuses
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News July 12, 2012 5:34PM
An artists work using recycled material including human teeth is on exhibit at the Elgin Public Museum in Elgin. Opening Saturday, July 14 at the Elgin Public Museum is Green Scale: Weighing in on the Green Movement. This exhibit examines the successes, shortcomings, and impact of the green movement on our global village. Also included will be an unusual art exhibit by five artists who use recyclables in their art work. July 12, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 14, 2012 6:28AM
ELGIN — Each and every day, the average U.S. resident tosses more than 4 pounds of trash into the garbage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
About 1½ pounds of that trash is actually recycled, the agency said.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made waves in the news recently, suggesting the city of New York consider placing a moratorium on recycling efforts as a way to save money. According to reports, recycling glass, metal and plastic costs that city $240 per ton — double the cost of just landfilling trash.
The cost of placing trash in dwindling landfill space versus recycling that trash is one of the topics broached in a new exhibit set to open at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Elgin Public Museum in Lords Park, at 225 Grand Blvd.
Named “Green Scale: Weighing in on the Green Movement,” the exhibit “examines the successes, shortcomings and impact of the green movement on our global village,” according to the exhibit’s creators.
Also included in the exhibit, to be at the Elgin museum for the next two months, is an art exhibit by five artists who use recyclables in their artwork. The artists will be at the exhibit opening Saturday.
“Green Scale” was put together by the museum studies class at Northern Illinois University and is on lease to the Elgin Public Museum, Director Peggie Stromberg explained.
“The Elgin Climate Change Organization is the major sponsor of ‘Green Scale,’ ” Stromberg added. Sponsors are vital to bringing traveling exhibits such as these to the museum, she said, by helping to cover the cost. “Green Scale” was $500 and is the second special exhibit from NIU brought to the museum this year.
Bales and bins
In addition to the exhibit’s photos and interpretive data, Stromberg borrowed a bale of aluminum cans from Elgin Recycling to show how 2,000-plus cans become one square of recyclable material. Museum staff and volunteers pulled some of their own, clean trash out of bins for part of the display, to show how much one person can throw away in a day.
Museum Coordinator Mike McGrath said that as he was putting the display together, he began to think more about how much people end up throwing away.
“People don’t realize how much garbage each of us generates every day,” McGrath says. The U.S. is one of the top garbage-generating countries, according to the exhibit.
Other countries also do not do as good a job controlling how trash is placed in the earth. The major landfill in one African country that is referred to in the exhibit is flooded every year — carrying toxins into groundwater and trash out to sea.
In other countries, children and adults “mine” landfills for recyclable or reusable materials.
At the same time, some producers “greenwash” their products to make consumers feel more comfortable with their purchases. “Marketing companies can use the appealing nature of being green to deceive and exploit consumers,” one of the exhibit’s placards reads.
Sigi Psimenos, one of the Elgin Climate Change Organization members who helped bring the exhibit to Elgin, said people must compare the costs versus the benefits of continuing recycling programs.
“The short answer is yes, recycling is good,” Psimenos said. “The long answer is, we don’t know. How much energy is used and consumed for recycling? Or is it better to start from scratch? That is what we have to look at.
“We all must recycle, but must we recycle everything? That is the question.”