Once every four garbage pickups is recycling day. Today was that day in our current cycle. Recycling is something on which I have worked since the late 1970’s when I lived in Chicago. It is one of those things about which I am very passionate.
With the availability of a recycling service (for which we pay), living in a middle class neighborhood with people who have a higher degree of education than the general populace, you would think everyone would work toward recycling as much of their trash as they could. That is not the case and I find that most disheartening.
I am guesstimating that only about 50% of us go to the effort to recycle – and that estimate may be a little generous to the high side. Is this just another symptom of the selfish society? I mean, how much extra effort does it take to throw an empty soda can in a bin provided by the scavenger service for that purpose than it takes to throw it in the plastic kitchen bag filled with trash that is headed straight for the landfill?
So if an educated population doesn’t see the benefit of recycling, I believe it is a fair statement to make that an uneducated population may see even less. Which leads me to the conclusion that recycling, as we presently have structured it, needs some help. I’m prepared to offer a simple solution which may get far more items that could be recycled out of the trash and back into circulation in some other form.
When I was growing up, milk or soda did not come in disposable containers or in plastic or aluminum ones. They came in one form and one form only – glass. Glass was expensive and it had the further disadvantage of being fairly heavy. But it had one big advantage over our modern containers. It got reused countless times and was only thrown out if it was broken.
At that time, all these containers had a deposit which was charged when they were purchased and was refunded when the container was returned to the store. For a bottle of soda, which cost ten cents, the deposit was two cents; for a quart of milk the deposit was five cents. I can assure you that consumers were dutiful about returning these to get their refund.
Now you may laugh at the amount of this deposit and say to yourself, who would go to the trouble for that kind of money? Well, returning an empty glass milk bottle could buy you a candy bar which today costs a dollar. And I believe that in order to make this deposit program effective, we would need to adjust the deposit amount to reflect the purchasing power of today’s dollar.
As I sit writing this, I am drinking from a bottle of water which is in the original plastic container in which I purchased it. I generally try to avoid buying products which have a great deal of packaging associated with them – but I do make an exception for water. I usually have about a five month supply on hand, just in case the infrastructure breaks down and the tap stops running. Gracie and I both love water.
By the way, I do not drink a bottle and then recycle it. I reuse the bottle, filling it from my Brita filter. This bottle has probably been reused at least 50 times so far. I mention this bottle because as I look at the label there are three states, Hawaii, Maine and California which charge a deposit. But that amount is only five cents. Apparently the other 47 states don’t think this is important enough to have enacted similar legislation.
In order to make an impact and get the attention of the consumer, I would suggest that nationwide we establish a mandatory deposit on all containers. This is not a tax because the consumer would receive a refund on return. For a small bottle or can of soda, I would suggest 25 cents as a starting point. For larger containers 50 cents or more. This would apply not only to beverages but to other things made of plastic such as laundry detergent and fabric softeners.
I see a number of benefits were this something that we established:
First, we would greatly increase the amount of recyclable containers which actually got recycled.
Second, we would probably find that instead of throwing our containers on the street or in our parks and forests, we would dispose of them properly, thus making those common areas far more comfortable for us to enjoy.
Third, we would foster a new industry at a time when America desperately needs jobs of any description and manufacturing jobs in particular. I would see the refund process being handled by newly-designed machines intended for that purpose.
Fourth, we would make picking up recyclables by the scavengers less expensive by having central points for collection, thus saving fuel.
Fifth, we might just wake up enough people so that they stopped thinking within the parameters of their own self-indulgent universe and help them start to realize that there is a bigger picture they should consider. Who knows where that might lead?
I guess if you can’t reach people with reason, perhaps the only other solution is “hit ‘em in their pocketbooks.”