I’ve had tons of people come up to me in the past year and tell me about how they only have to take their bin to the curb every few weeks, or how they started composting, or how it drives them crazy when their co-workers don’t recycle. It’s actually fascinating and uplifting all at once.
But I know that for every person like that, there’s another one who drags their overflowing wheelie cart to the curb every single week and that chances are it contains paper, aluminum, glass, and other valuable resources.
I recently read an interesting Metro Vancouver report that divided the population into 4 groups (see that chart on the right) ranging from Self-Directed Greens (people who will do whatever it takes to be greener and don’t need as much of a government push) to Uninterested Polluters (people who generally don’t give a crap about the environment and aren’t willing to give up their lifestyle for anything).
If nothing else, I think I can say that this project has helped push us into the former category ( in terms of landfill waste anyway), but the real reason I bring this up is the dreaded C word.
That’s right – “convenience”. According to this chart, 34% of us might be inclined to do the “right thing”, but only if it’s convenient.
And I’ve been thinking of convenience lately because, while we’ve been sorting our recycling like mad this past year, and taking the curbside recyclables out every couple weeks, I’ve actually been storing the other recyclables like low grade paper, soft plastic, un-numbered plastic, and metals in the basement (yes, they are cleaned and sorted).
Now that the time has come to actually get these recyclables to the recycler, it seems decidedly inconvenient that closest depot that takes everything I’ve got is a 30 minute car ride away. So I’m faced with burning fossil fuels to salvage a few bags of recycling or cycling around town to a bunch of different stops.
I could, of course, keep the pile going downstairs, nestled up against my bags of fabric scraps, bins of craft supplies, and the cardboard box of 48 extra large roles of plastic-wrap-free toilet paper I got from the janitorial supply store (that’s a never-ending supply down there, I tell ya), but that’s not exactly sustainable is it?
In my mind, the recycling programs that work the best are ones where they come to you (curb side pick up) or you get cold hard cash (deposit systems). It’s truly amazing how a 10 cent bottle deposit changes behavior – have you ever traveled where they have deposits on bottles but not cans? The roadside litter says it all.
In reality, it’s not like doing this once a year will kill me. I just bring it up to point out that the 52% of people who are primarily going for the convenience thing aren’t about to store recycling in their basement for 12 months before hunting out a recyclable home for every twist tie and bottle cap that ever crossed their home’s threshold. So how can we make our system better?