Evidence has been building for years that recycling programs are inefficient and not cost effective. It’s reached a head now, with many cities suspending their curbside recycling programs. In fact, many have already been sending the recyclables they’ve been collecting to the landfill. You can read what may be surprising details here. , , and
But this blog is about communication, so I will focus on that aspect. We have long been encouraged, indoctrinated, even badgered, to recycle. Municipalities have gone to great lengths to make recycling part of everyone’s daily and weekly regimen, providing special carts, placing receptacles in public places, and educating the public on both the importance and the process of recycling.
Last summer, I was at a city-wide Fourth of July celebration held in a park in a nearby suburb. Temporary trash and recycling receptacles were everywhere, set up to clear the detritus from dozens of picnics. As I kept an eye on the receptacles, I was bemused by the number of people who dutifully approached the multiple containers (marked “Landfill,” “Plastic,” “Paper,” “Compost,” and “Cans”) and stood there in option paralysis. They might still be standing there if it hadn’t been for the “Recycling Nazis.”
These helpful folks, dressed in brightly-colored recycling - but not recycled - T-shirts, instructed the befuddled on the right - and terribly wrong - choices that faced them. They were quite single-minded - even zealous - about their duties. More than once, I saw them burrowing into the containers to correct a wrongly-placed plate or plastic utensil - having been too late to catch the actual perpetrator.
Let’s face it: all of the recycling education and indoctrination has failed. The public is confused, the cities are abandoning their recycling programs, and the researchers are nearing surrender. I can easily imagine someone leaving a protest to save the earth and tossing their coffee cup out of the car during the drive home. As always, common sense is the best guide for how to proceed. I was a Boy Scout (I guess I still am), and we learned to respect nature, to not litter, and to leaving a place in better condition than when we found it. Instead of beating a dead horse about recycling, we simply need to be exhorted to clean up after ourselves.