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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Recycling Is So Easy...So Why Aren't People Doing It?

Today at the office, I pulled 2 plastic water bottles, 1 soda can, a couple of small, light-weight cardboard boxes and at leasst 5 lbs of paper out of the trash...and this was just from 3 of about 20 trash cans in the building. It made me mad. My reaction was inappropriately strident. I know I over-reacted. But it's just so frustrating.

Every week I take all the non-paper recyclables from my office and put them in the container at our house for curbside pickup. I take the paper to the Abitibi collection bins in the parking lot at the local school. Serving as the self-appointed in-house recycle fanatic is a role I have willingly taken on. Once in a while, if I ask, someone will take the paper for me, or take the cans and bottles home to his or her bin. But the general lack of interest on the part of many of my co-workers is starting to get depressing. Even with a bin for paper right next to the waste can, some of them till drop their unwanted paper in the trash!

Is this a trend? Are people tired of the recycling message? Is it worth the effort? Are we experiencing "recycling fatigue.?

The statistics aren't too encouraging. According to BevNet, a beverage industry website, the recycling rate for plastic water containers was 30.9% in 2008, a 32% increase over the 2007 rate. So, even with a major growth in recycling rates, nearly 70% of the water bottles didn't get recycled!

An article on Waste Age, notes that Americans recycled 54 billion aluminum cans in 2007, representing 53.8% of the cans that that were sold. Am I guilty of looking at the can half empty if I  ask about the the 50 billion cans that weren't recycled?

An EPA report says that 28.1% of glass was recycled in the U.S. in 2007, which is mostly attributed to mandatory glass recycling (deposit bottles) in 11 states. So, it appears that about 70% of glass bottles are not recycled.

There is some encouraging news. A news item on RedGreenandBlue, a website that covers environmental politics, reports that in 2009 San Francisco recycled 72% of its municipal solid waste. The city even requires that construction debris be recycled. Seattle had increased its recycling levels to 50% by 2008. And the island of Nantucket recycled at an incredible 90% in 2007.

Unfortunately, most communities are stuck at the 25 to 30% level, or worse. Low prices and diminished markets for the recyclables are adversely affecting municipal and private recycling programs. But why would that translate into individual lack of participation?

Can you shed some light on this? Are you experiencing recycle burn-out? Please share.


  1. Most discouraging - Everyone in Northern CA is very sensitive about recycling. In fact all the communities and local govs have made it easy for us to recycle. Plus the kids are taught from the beginning of pre-school about recycling so parents have to really stay in line.

  2. Dee Dee,
    Great article! It sounds to me that it's not as easy to recycle at the work place as it should be. If you have to gather things, transport them in your car and take them home, it's no wonder more people aren't participating. In my office building, I have to drive my cardboard down the road to a local church that recycles. There are no plastic bottles here (because I don't use them) but I don't even know where they would go locally. There should be an incentive for workplace recycling. If there is and I don't know about it, there should be more information about it.
    Keep up the good work Dee Dee.

  3. Thanks Donna. It is a hassle to recycle from the office, though we did try to get a recycling contract with our trash hauler. Unfortunately our parking lot is too narrow for his recycling truck. Though I'm frustrated by the wayward few in my office, most of my co-workers are supportive of my efforts, and I'm working on recruiting a couple of helpers. And we do have lots of folks who use non-disposables for their coffee and lunches. Making progress, slowly.

  4. Nadine, Californians are light years ahead of those of us on the East Coast! While I know families with young children are getting the message, and schools are buying into recycling programs, there are still so many people who aren't on board. To make matters worse, municipalities don't have ordinances with teeth and some of the waste haulers are notorious for picking up curbside recycling with the trash!

  5. I live in Central CA and I'm suprised that we're not as eco-conscious as our northern neighbors, especially given the strong ties to the land and water. I guess we just need to try harder.

    I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who takes recyclables home to save them from the office trash cans. I think the times I start to feel burned out are when I start to feel proud about my efforts. It's then I'll look down the street at the oversized bins, overflowing with trash. House after house of big trash bins. It's kinda depressing. At the same time, I really think that the issue really isn't visible to my community. They don't care because they don't see a problem. They just see that they fit their stuff into a can and by the end of the day, it's empty again.

    I think watching Living With Ed (the episode where Ed takes his wife to see where they process the recyclables that people throw out) woke me up to the need to try harder.

  6. Sad as it seems, I think that the recycling message just isn't reinforced. When you go to a restaurant or take out place, is there a recycling bin along with a trash bin? No. Just look at our local Wawa or McDonald's.There's probably just a trash can. When you walk down the street of your town, do you see recycling containers or just trash bins? Well, you know what the answer is in New Hope. I think that if people started getting fined for not complying with recycling, the message would probably sink in faster.

  7. Hi Wonder-ful, Thank you for visiting my blog. Yes, it is surprising that Central CA is not as earth-friendly as your neighbors to the north. But I'm guessing you're still ahead of us here in the chilly northeast. Good for you for taking the office recycling home. You should feel proud of your efforts. But wouldn't it be nice to have a team! I do have one co-worker who will take the paper for me. He will also take the cans and bottles, but his recycler doesn't accept cardboard which is what we generate a lot of (all those boxes of paper!!!). I also recycle from fund raising events for various organizations I'm involved with. After a big Christmas party, I brought home 5 cases of empty wine bottles!!! Can you imagine what the neighbors thought when Dee Dee's had 60 empty wine bottles in her recycling!

  8. Leah, I couldn't agree more. If there was a fine like you get for not shoveling your walk after a snowstorm or for letting your dog roam, then people might think differently about just tossing their recyclables. In Massachusettes where my family has a home, you never find bottles or cans in the trash or by the side of the road because there is a 5 cent deposit for each one. And we do know that the bottle laws in 11 states are what contribute to the majority of can and bottle recycling. I guess it's going to have to become a more political issue before we see movement in the right direction.

  9. I know water is a huge issue for us here (the city called a meeting to announce that due to budget cuts, they are going to install water meters to properly bill us for our water use). The thing is, and I'm speaking locally here... our town doesn't reinforce the things they set into place. Fines for watering on off days? Nope! My neighbor not only waters on off days, but hoses down the house, sidewalk, driveway... mid day, off day... no one says a word. Their annual e-waste collection day? Happened only once (so much for annual).

    I'm fortunate that I at least talk about recycling to the next generation. I get 4 days to do a lesson on recycling (aimed at 5 and 6 year olds). This year, we're taking the things the kids throw away (milk cartons, art leftovers, crayons) and showing how to make gifts from our class trash. Gotta start somewhere I guess.

  10. On a positive note, I did get very excited that we have a new recycler in town (my favorite place to take in cans closed shop... and they were so nice there!) They open Saturday.

    We also have a fundraiser involving recycling for the local band. The middle school band. It's part concert in the park, part drop off. We're going to ask the community to drop off their bags of aluminum for us to cash in.

  11. Dee Dee,

    Great article. I also go a little crazy trying to recycle everything I can at home. I've even asked numerous times at our local supermarket, if they could remove the styrofoam "take-out" containers from the salad bar and replace them with more earth friendly, recyclable containers. No help on that front.

    When I'm out walking I see trash (bottles, cans, etc.) and if I have a free hand, I pick it up and recycle it at home. It seems like most of it is Wawa trash. Maybe they need more bins to collect their own refuse.

    Sue S.

  12. Hi Sue,
    Thanks, I'm glad you liked this post. It seems that there are those of us who feel compelled to recycle, some who do it sometimes and others who just don't care. And those who litter...well, there ought to be a law! Wait a second. There is a law. I think that the next generation is more tuned in to recycling than ours. Let's hope so. Keep up the good work.