This past Saturday, my fiance and I were loading our car with our recyclables to take down to the local recycling center. Our apartment complex does not recycle anything other than cardboard. It used to recycle plastics as well, but the recycling company refused to pick those up anymore since people couldn’t seem to not put their garbage in the bin. So now my complex does the minimum possible to recycle. It has one dumpster, clearly labeled ‘Cardboard Only’ in several places, and in big bold letters.
So imagine my anger as I watched a woman take a plastic bag of plastic bottle and leave in it front of the recycling dumpster, ironically in front of the sign saying ‘Cardboard Only.’
To be fair, the woman was adding to a large pile of plastic garbage bags in front of the bin (some filled with cardboard, some with plastics, and others with garbage), so she was not the only one. But she is the one I saw.
Maybe it was seeing this happen while we were on our way to take our recycling. Maybe it was that I see this happen more often than I’d care to admit. Maybe it’s the shame of not storming over to her and telling her what was what. But this angered me. And still angers me. Is following the rules of recycling that complicated?
We’ve been talking so much about recycling and consumption here at Redefining Eco lately. We’ve covered everything from using less plastic to composting. But is all this discussion moot when people are just too damn lazy to do it right?
I beginning to think that we, as environmentalists, have left the rest of the world behind. Great, we got people to recognize recycling. But we didn’t get people to realize how important it is to do it right – to sort the recycling based on how your area collects it. To do the research on what your area recycles. To realize that a recycle bin is not another trash can. What worries me, is that I see kids doing the same thing as that woman did – leaving garbage by the recycling dumpster. That’s a whole generation of kids growing up without realizing the importance of knowing what’s recyclable and what’s not.
This doesn’t even take into account the fact that we recycle so little of what we could be recycling, or that the real goal should be to just use less stuff. But how can we even begin to have those conversations if people are still struggling to get the first bit? I’m tempted to spend my weekends standing by the dumpster, instructing people how to properly dispose of their stuff. (Threatening people with fines if there is no way to watch people doesn’t work, apartment complex. You need to have some strength behind your threats!).
Do you have the same problem where you live? What drastic measure are you tempted to take? How can we re-teach recycling?