Friday is trash day in my neck of the woods. So each Thursday night, I, like all of my neighbors, go through that time-honored tradition of dragging barrels out to the curb. In our case, it's more accurate to say barrel (single). For a family of four, I take a little pride in putting out one barrel's worth of trash. After filling up our green and blue recycling bins (with proper sorting of materials, of course) and dumping all our organics and food scraps in the compost pile, we're only generating one or two bags of trash each week. Not bad considering the average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash a day.
What I'm still amazed at though is how many households just have a barrel at the curb. No green or blue recycling bins to brighten up the scene. So my question is: Why are people not recycling? Is it sheer ignorance? Laziness? A combination of both, or something else altogether?
When I was part of Tiverton's Recycling Committee a few years back we struggled with that same question. Granted, I’ll say that at the surface you do see more bins out there with each passing year, but we can do – and need to do – better. According to the EPA, only 32% of America’s waste is recycled.
Really, it comes down to changing behavior. Of course, that's easier said then done. Whether you're trying to eat healthier, start exercising, or throwing your soda bottles in a blue bin instead of the trash, the premise is all the same. I think the key to all of this is to start early and have good role models.
The logical place to start is at our schools. That requires that recycling (paper, plastic, aluminum at a minimum) be mandatory. End of story. From a business point of view, it makes good economic sense to recycle and reduce your waste hauling costs. (The Tiverton School Committee can't even figure out Contracting 101, so improving recycling is not even hitting their radar.) But once that problem is taken care of, we should start in kindergarten and teach our kids the why's and how's of it all. Put a bin in each classroom. Give them gold stars for tossing their stuff away correctly. Reward the behavior and it becomes second nature. We all want to receive praise and accolades.
You know what happens next? Domino effect. Kids go home and give their parent(s) guilt trips, wear at them in that way that kids do until the breaking point. Before long, that household has bins at the curb on trash day. Or maybe they are recycling more. At the end of the day, we have our next generation being part of the solution instead of the problem.
So, I ask you: Why is recycling that hard?