Green industry thrives on greenbacks, too

The renewed interest in our environment is long overdue and is a healthy sign for the future. Conserving resources, reusing materials, and recycling what cannot be used again makes sense.

The renewed interest in our environment is long overdue and is a healthy sign for the future. Conserving resources, reusing materials, and recycling what cannot be used again makes sense.

It is not new, just packaged differently. Conservation is part of our new “green culture.”

Regardless of how it is marketed, the green economy works best when greenbacks are associated with it.

There is nothing wrong with making a buck by saving energy, cutting down on raw materials going into manufacturing, or simply using less.

In fact, it’s an idea we all should embrace.

Remember the Great Depression slogan, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, and do without.”

It seems to be making a comeback. People have been recycling for years.

For example, today much of our paper comes from used newspapers, paper sacks and cardboard boxes collected curbside or by recyclers.

Whereas once wood chips from sawmills and logging operations were “the” raw material going into pulp production, today they are a source.

Using paper over and over again saves electricity, as well. For example, Nippon Paper Industries USA owns and operates a pulp and paper operation in Port Angeles.

The mill was built in 1920, and one of the key reasons it was located there was cheap power from two dams on the nearby Elwha River.

Electricity from those impoundments ran huge electric grinders which mashed wood chips into pulp.

The pulp then went to paper machines which produced newsprint and telephone directory paper.

In 1992, Nippon’s predecessor installed a de-inking facility, and today 40 percent of the pulp comes from recycled newspapers and telephone books.

As a result, those giant refiners operate less often, cutting down on the plant’s electrical load.

Industrial recycling is not new. I grew up in the 1950s just outside of Butte, a Montana mining town with the slogan, “The Richest Hill on Earth.”

It was rich in copper, gold, silver and many precious metals we use in our computers, flat screen televisions, cell phones and other everyday products.

Because Butte was a mining town, the water pumped out of the underground shafts was heavily contaminated with metals.

Men wanting to earn extra money would pick through the burned over garbage dumps collecting steel cans.

They’d pile cans as high as possible in their pickup truck beds and sell their loads to the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. (ACM).

The ACM would dump the cans into the mine water settling ponds, allow the copper to replace the iron in the cans, and then smelt the cans to remove the copper and other precious metals.

The company would then treat the waste water for iron.

The company and the can pickers made money, and because iron was easier to treat than copper, environmental cleanup was easier.

It isn’t just the big operators who recycled. As an electrician, my father put new wiring in many older homes in Walkerville, which made them safer. Many house fires started because older wiring overheated or electrical boxes shorted out.

Part of his compensation was selling the old copper wire to the scrap dealers.

Green industries are popping up all over the world because it is the right thing to do, and there are associated economic incentives.

The latest example is Costco. Earlier this year, the Issaquah-based retail giant announced it will begin installing large solar arrays on the roofs of its stores in California and Hawaii.

The one in Kona is the largest solar array in Hawaii.

These installations cost $750,000 each, but Costco will make the money back in three to five years.

Similar innovations are happening so fast that governments can’t keep up with them. Instead of supporting these efforts, many elected officials and agencies are getting in the way by imposing mandates, restrictions and punitive regulations to achieve our conservation goals.

The best thing government can do is to remove barriers to innovation and let it happen.

The simple fact is, no government mandate can replace market-based incentives that allow people to make a profit.

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.