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Why Don't YOU Recycle?

Posted by Bryana on 3/24/2010 to Green Living

While I was researching what was going on with cloth diapers in the news this weekend, I ran across a thought provoking article about Why People Don't Recycle. The author, Ashley Schiller, interviewed five individuals as part of an investigation to "help proponents of recycling better understand the 'how' of what can be done to increase participation" in recycling programs.

The participants included a 20-something bachelor, a 30-something family guy, a sweet sixteen-ager, and two proud grandparents. Schiller concluded that "…the lack of convenience for those who do not have a curbside program" is a primary barrier. Then, she touched on "visibility of recycling campaigns (especially online)" for increased awareness - especially among teens. And finally, she suggested those who do recycle should check their personal behavior and judgments; more than one of the participants pointed out an attitude of superiority by those who do recycle despite the inconvenience.

The Convenience Argument

The 20-something bachelor, a recent business college graduate living in Utah, touched on convenience as his #1 reason not to recycle. "We don't have a [curbside] recycling program where I live. You have to collect all of your items and then drive them to the middle of nowhere to drop them off. It takes too much extra effort."

On one hand, I understand this argument; we are a culture of convenience. That said, there are a lot of worthwhile efforts we put into each day that are not convenient, but necessary. Showering? Inconvenient. Once, or sometimes twice a day if I work-out, I have to shower. Each time it is like starting from scratch all over again. Wash and condition the hair, cleanse the body, wash the face, towel off, lotion up, put on make-up, dry and style the hair. It is an inconvenience, but it has value. Instead of presenting a smelly, oily, somewhat offensive self, we put forth our best effort. Inconvenient, but valued.

Changing cloth diapers? Inconvenient. It would be so much easier to leave baby in a chemical-filled disposable diaper until it absorbed beyond its capacity and begins to burst.

The soft, absorbent cloth fibers are comfortable for baby - baby's comfort, while inconvenient, has value - to the caregivers, and most certainly to baby.

I can think of several other things that are inconvenient, but valuable - and so, I do them.

The argument that one can only recycle if curbside recycling is available is, in my opinion, an easy "out". We drive our children to soccer, drive ourselves to church or community activities, drive ourselves to work, drive to the movies, to cultural events, to the store, to school, to a restaurant…none of those any less convenient than driving to a local recycling center.

I find it interesting that the same 20-something bachelor who stated inconvenience as his #1 factor also admitted that in college he didn't even recycle when he lived in an apartment complex with a designated dumpster for recyclables. His claim? He didn't know "the rules".

"I don't know what I can recycle" Argument

This is an argument quickly remedied. Don't know the rules, go to Earth 911 and get them. Our recycling center has a sheet you can post on your fridge or in the garage as a reminder.

Here are the basics to remember:

PAPER - Paper includes cardboard, newsprint, office paper, envelopes, junk mail, magazines. Nearly every recycling program takes paper. What to leave out? Anything with food stains (think pizza boxes), plastic coated paper plates and cups, and paperbacks (donate to the library).

METAL - Metal includes aluminum cans, pie tins and foil. Bottle caps, wire coat hangers, empty aerosol cans, and scrap metal. Pretty straightforward. This excludes batteries and electronics (though many recycling centers do have days you can drop off large electronics).

PLASTIC - The general rule of thumb goes like this, "If it's a bottle that has a neck that's smaller than the body (beverages, cleaning products, shampoo, and some food jars) and has a "alor2" symbol on the bottom, nearly every program will accept it." Remove the caps (a different type of plastic).

GLASS - Glass includes bottles and jars (rinse and throw away their caps first). It is true that some programs will not accept certain colors of glass or treated glass; just ask them and they'll tell you.

The "No Incentive" Argument

One of the grandparents that participated in this program said, "Now I live in a state that doesn't give you any incentive to recycle, so I don't usually do it."


Read it again for the impact.

The same man goes on to say, "Without a good program that pays a nickel or dime per can, your only incentive is your guilty conscience."

If this same logic was applied in our school systems we'd be sunk. Let's look at our educational system. Teachers go to school for a minimum of 4 years to get a bachelor's degree so they can teach. Most of them will go back to school in order to further their career. Even with 6 to 8 years under their belt, and even though we trust them with our children's minds, they are still one of the worst paid professions.

What if they used this logic?

"There is just no incentive to be a good teacher, so I'm not gonna do it - I'm just gonna coast along and ruin the future generation."

And really, that mindset is somewhat prevalent - and we've seen some long term effects of it.

But this isn't about the educational system…

Responsibility is not about Convenience

The bottom line is that we NEED to have CONVICTION to do things that are RESPONSIBLE whether or not it is convenient, whether or not we might have to learn something, and whether or not there is no monetary gain for doing so.

For instance, I am raising my children. It is often inconvenient. I'm always having to learn new things, like how to use cloth diapers, and grow personally so I can be a better parent. My guidelines are not clearly defined, but I look for them anyway - without fail I define these guidelines daily. And yes, kiddos are a money-suck (to put it lightly), but it is my conviction to raise them, it is my responsibility to raise them - and while I'm not making a dime…it pays off in ways that cannot be measured.

And on a lesser level, so does recycling.

So what are your arguments? Why don't you recycle? How do you really feel about your decision to recycle or not to recycle? Speak your peace…I'm all ears.