Recycling has always been something that I’ve felt is pretty important, and it frustrates me how inconsistent we are about it as a society across the board.

People who are the most adamant about recycling like to make you think that it’s this simple thing that everyone can do to help the environment, but the truth is for a lot of people it’s actually anything but. Take my community, for example, which has a recycling program sponsored by our county. They just recently made a change to how they’re going to pick up – we used to just leave everything out in blue plastic bags and that was that, but now they’ve decided that the bags are too much of a hassle so we have to use a separate trash can specifically for recycling.

Many places, such as where I grew up in Michigan, give you a bin to leave out by the curb with your garbage each week, but here you’re required to buy your own as part of their new Choose and Use Your Own Container program.

Except for blue bags, if those were you’re particular container of choice… 😛

But I think what frustrates me more about our local program is when you peel back the layers and see just what they actually do and don’t take. I’ll even admit that I knew they wouldn’t take certain items for a while, but I’ve always snuck them in the bags anyways … hopefully as a gentle reminder that we’d like our local recycling program to be all inclusive! Now with the bags gone and my goods just loose in the container, however, I’ve taken to sorting everything out just to ensure that I don’t look out to see a pile of stuff that they won’t take laying in my yard after the garbage people come by… 🙁

Here’s what they won’t take:

  • newspapers (who doesn’t recycle newspapers?!)
  • paper or cardboard
  • styrofoam (see bullet #1 – isn’t this like one of the most common things to recycling?!?!)
  • plastic film or bags of any kind (including the 8 billion shopping bags you leave Walmart with every visit)
  • plastic utensils, plastic toys

Admittedly I don’t really care about the newspapers for me personally because we haven’t gotten a physical newspaper in ages, but cardboard … we get a ton of stuff from Amazon, so I’m always leaving out piles of broken down boxes for the trash – it would be nice. And styrofoam I just think is ridiculous … I’ve never heard of a recycling program not taking egg cartons, for god’s sake!

As for what they do take:

  • aluminum and metal food cans
  • glass containers
  • plastic containers (#1 – 5, #7)

And frankly, the last one is a perfect example of what I’m talking about when I say that it’s not easy enough because never before have I had to sort through my recycling to look for the little stamps on each plastic container – which aren’t always uniform and sometimes don’t exist altogether – to figure out which ones go in the trash and which ones are ok to recycle. It’s crazy! Mind you, I spent a few minutes and did it anyways because it’s personally important to me, but there are a lot of people out there who really don’t care one way or the other, and yet the only way that a recycling program is effective is if the vast majority of the population participates in it.

I know it may seem petty, but expecting people to sort out their plastics is an extra barrier to entry. Expecting them to take their newspapers and styrofoam somewhere else because curbside pickup won’t take them is an extra barrier. Hell, to an extent even requiring a separate garbage can is an extra step that I’m sure some people are just going to say, “Screw it – all this does is cost me time and money. Why should I bother?”

As it is, not everybody thinks kindly of recycling … as crazy of a notion as that might be to anyone who cares about our environment. Here’s an interesting set of five short interviews with people who don’t recycle and it’s mostly a mixture of not caring, not getting an incentive to care, or it seeming like too much of a hassle … these are the kind of people you’re up against when you add another rule or limitation to what your local recycling program will cover, and as you can see, it doesn’t take much to make somebody just throw in the towel and send it all to the dump when they’re not really invested in the cause to begin with…

For me, I think the most vivid justification for why I recycle is the memory of the couple of times that I’ve actually been to the dump myself. It’s always been to dispose of some bigger items that the garbage won’t pick up when we’re moving, and if driving up a giant pile of garbage to throw away your trash doesn’t make you see the need to recycle, I really don’t know what else will!

Just so much garbage – as far as the eye can see – with random bulldozers and heavy equipment trying to shuffle it around as best they can. I remember once being worried that my car was going to get stuck as I backed in to drop off an old table that Goodwill didn’t want, only to then watch a garbage truck buzz in and add another pile of junk to the sea of garbage like it was just another day’s work. Which it really was, because he’s a garbage man, and hauling away the crap we no longer want is what they do.

So I do like to pride myself for doing the best I can to recycle, and I’m happy to say that if you were to count the number of garbage vs. recycling bags that our household puts out each month, the recycling probably outnumbers the trash … which is a good start. And as much of a hassle as it is to sort my recycling and use a special bin and make special trips to recycle the stuff that I can’t get rid of at the curb, I’ll probably be one to take the extra time to do all of that, too, because environmental science and putting less into our local landfill is important to me.

That said, I don’t live in a bubble, so it’s really just as important to me that my neighbors recycle, too, and if right now it seems like it’s too difficult or complicated or time consuming to make it worth the hassle for them, then recycling needs to be made easier so that they’ll want to care more about it, too.

The next generation of recyclers - playing in our new recycling bin...

The next generation of recyclers – playing in our new recycling bin…

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