The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

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.”

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Comments on: "HIT ‘EM IN THEIR POCKETBOOKS" (15)

  1. You have to see The Story of Stuff http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all the original. Animated movie is excellent

    • I appreciate the referral and was trying to view the movie when I got the most dreaded of all internet/blogging messages – “Error 404 – Not Found.” Perhaps they’re working on a revised version and it’s been temporarily removed. I’ll keep trying.

    • Well, it’s simple and practical – and because of those two characteristics would be effective.

      One reader who prefers to comment to my email rather than on the blog said, “I have so much going with the kids and house, I don’t have time to make an extra stop returning empty bottles and cans.”

      So I asked her, “What if you paid a deposit of twenty-five cents, but when you returned them you received two dollars each? If that were the case, would you find the time to return them to the recycling stations?”

      I haven’t heard back from her yet but will let you know what she says.

  2. Had to stop reading at the revelation that you are drinking bottled water or water from a plastic bottle. Nearly all plastic contains BPA – a chemical our FDA refuses to regulate due to corporate pressure, and a chemical which causes cancer, blood infection, infertility, and other dangerous & life-threatening effects on our bodies.

    Please watch this:

    And, really, I’d advise watching a documentary entitled “Tapped.” It is riveting, disturbing, enlightening, shocking, and a bunch of other eye-opening adjectives. This documentary about corporate control of our water and plastics, was banned in the U.S. for a time until activist action forced it’s release in the states.

    I beg you to stop drinking bottled water, and to research BPA-free bottles before using other types of plastic bottles, such as Nalgene, etc. Because I’m crazy about you & don’t want to lose you to BPA! (or anything else!)

    • Thank you SB for your stern warning and admonition about BPA’s. You’re the best friend whom I’ve never met!

      Actually, I am aware of the issue and consume water from plastic to the tune of perhaps 32 oz. a week. It’s a matter of convenience and sometimes necessity. When I referenced the five month stock of water on hand in bottles, it wouldn’t be my first way to store it. By the by, I was interested no one commented on why I have that on hand.

      I envision a couple of (I hope) unlikely scenarios.

      One, Obama goes down in the November election and those who see him as the savior of America, as a result of this defeat, do a great deal to disrupt the distribution of food, water and other necessities;

      Two, the Mayans might be right. In either case, I want to have enough food and water on hand to take care of Gracie.

      But dying slowly of BPA’s or quickly of dehydration – one has to make a choice. When you live in a desert, you have to make do with the best options available – even if those aren’t perfect.

      P. S. As a child I grew up on Mountain Valley Spring Water. Although the water in New York City is reputed to be among the best in the country, it wasn’t good enough for mom. So we would lug home the stuff, (I don’t think there was even an alternate brand available), which came in one gallon dark green (to protect the water from sunlight) glass bottles.

      And if I have one major concern regarding BPA’s – it is that the government says that it is safe. Can we talk thalodomide and countless other FDA approved items?

  3. Okay, finished reading & I love the responsibility aspect of this post. Your idea of mandatory deposits on ALL containers seems to be a win-win for everyone. And quite simple to put into play, which makes me wonder why it hasn’t already been done? Why is that the simplest, most cost-effective solutions seem to fly right over the heads of the powers that be??

    • Well, the reason that it hasn’t been put in play is simple – the feared loss of revenue by some of our biggest corporations – Coca Cola; Pepsi Cola; Procter & Gamble to name a few.

      Although I don’t buy soda, I do monitor its price. Typically, “on sale”, a 12 pack of soda can be purchased for three dollars. Add a three dollar deposit to that (twenty-five cents a can) and you move the consumer from thinking that this is a “must have” product to one we will think about. (And they should think about it).

      Twenty-four bottles of bottled water run an average cost of about $3.50. Add six dollars to that for a deposit and all of a sudden the consumer starts wondering whether this is something they really need. The fact that the six dollar deposit is refundable doesn’t enter into the minds of people who are used to short-term thinking.

      It seems so obvious that we could do a great deal to improve our situation without the necessity of writing 2000 pages of legislation to address simple issues. But for those who have their own agendas, you can bury a lot of personal privilige in bills of that length.

      Wasn’t it Donna Summer who sang the song, “Enough is Enough?”

      • “The fact that the six dollar deposit is refundable doesn’t enter into the minds of people who are used to short-term thinking.”

        Wow, this pinpoints the overall problem with the state of our nation: “short-term thinking.”

      • That is exactly the problem. It exists with those who are voters – and naturally exists with those whom they elect.

  4. I have been amazed when watching Discovery Channel to see just how much of what we discard can be turned into worthwhile products. Unfortunately previous generations garbage has found its way into our oceans and is causing havoc there.

    • When I first got involved with recycling, the materials which could be used were limited to newspaper, glass, plastic and cans. The cans had to be stripped of their labels and no glossy paper was accepted. We have made remarkable progress since then.

      You are correct, earlier generations polluted the oceans fiercely and that refuse is washing ashore fifty years later. But they didn’t know – and I accept that as a rationale. We viewed the oceans as a garbage dump with an unlimited capability of accepting our refuse. We were wrong.

      But people today do know better. And if they continue their disdain for our planet, I can find no excuse for their behavior.

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