Recycling Recycling: A Needed CleanUp

The other day I offered to set my neighbor’s trash out for collection while he left on vacation. In the course of that conversation, we got into a debate about whether empty wine bottles went into recycling bags or trash bags for our city collection. I believed that glass went into the blue bags for recycling along with paper, cardboard, plastic, etc.; my neighbor believed that all glass had to go into trash bags that went to the landfill. We were confused… so we looked it up on the city’s online government site.

It turns out, we were both wrong….in different ways. My neighbor was right about the wine bottles and glass not being eligible for the blue recycling bags the city collects. However, neither of us were aware that plastic bags and, interestingly, plastic pill bottles cannot be placed in the recycling bags either—who’d have thunk??

This situation just illustrates one of the biggest problems with recycling programs today: educating the public. In my situation, both my neighbor and I discussed the fact there really needed to be better identification and ongoing reminders to residents about “how” to recycle. I am a big advocate of recycling but was not aware that bottles, plastic bags, and plastic pill bottles couldn’t be included in the blue bag; i.e. I was doing it wrong. And ‘contaminated’ bags are often discarded and cannot be processed. What is needed in my case, I believe, is regular reminders of what ‘Can’ be included in recycle bags and what ‘Cannot’ be included and goes into the provided trash bin. In addition, a color photo label could be posted on the trash bin with similar information. Both of these could reduce contamination and increase the efficiency of the recycling process. I should point out, however, that the city’s online link for city services DOES have a very good video of how to do recycling properly—thus it should be referenced in communications the city has with its residents.

So the question that arises from all this is: ‘why aren’t recycling programs more effective' and profitable?' And why are some cities SCALING BACK recycling programs? A recent New York Times article may shed some light on these reasons. The article cites that despite decades of awareness, less that 1/3 of all municipal waste is recycled—far less than in Europe and other large global countries. More importantly, it contains an interview with the executive director of Recycle Across America, ( a non-profit company focused on improving recycling. Their studies/efforts have shown that recycling CAN be improved and become a habit just like drivers using safety belts and drivers not driving when drunk. However, according to the director, this hasn’t happened on a nationwide level because there are “thousands of confusing recycling instructions on bins throughout the country, which makes people skeptical and apathetic about recycling, and projects the message that recycling is unimportant.” The director goes on to say that the reason public education and standardization hasn’t happened is due to the fact that recycling businesses are owned by the same companies that own the landfills and that landfill services are more profitable.

Recycling CAN be profitable for companies involved and CAN be an effective way to reduce our carbon footprint. If we want to be serious about it, we need to:

1- provide a standardization of how recyclables are collected & processed

2- ensure quality education materials and labeling are provided to residents and businesses along with ongoing reminders of ‘how’ to separate trash from recyclables

3- ensure the trash collecting and recycling companies are profitable through efficiency analyses as well as governmental contracts for pricing of these collected materials.

In summary, it’s important to remember that our trees, gas, natural gas and other raw materials are all finite—i.e. limited. With a dramatic growth in global population and a corresponding acceleration of increased energy use, recycling is necessary and we need to ‘clean it up!’

#recycling #sustainability #kickinggas #landfills #trash #cleanup