Selt Directed Greens vs Uninterested Polluters

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.

population segments

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?



Filed under Around the house, recycling

6 responses to “Selt Directed Greens vs Uninterested Polluters

  1. Sue

    In the uk i hate the idea that people will be fined or parts of their refuse not taken away if we don’t seperate things properly or if the bins are overfilled for the roadside collections. i would like to see more recyle centres to put the recyclables in plus i would love to be rewarded rather than punished to do the recyling. i haven’t seen any deposit systems where i live. also i heard that the uk government will bring out slop buckets in the future with ridiculous fines for those not using them. what happens if compost my veg peelings don’t want a fine for not doing as im told.

  2. Wonderful post with some thought provoking comments. Your thoughts echo my own – I’ve come to realise more and more that people need incentive to overcome inconvenience. It kinda makes me sad…

  3. Tim

    The area of study for these types of hurdles in creating mass movement is called “Social Marketing” refer to a Vancouver Sun article of June 22 2009 as well as the book
    “Fostering Sustainable Behaviour” by Doug Mackenzie-Mohr

    • Good one! I was lucky enough to go to a workshop by Mackenzie-Mohr last year, and it was super interesting and inspirational. He really focuses on measuring your efforts so success can be replicated in other jurisdictions.

  4. DSF

    Oh, nice chart! I’ve been thinking about this in respect to my current obsession, bokashi–would love to get more folks involved, but keep coming up against that “convenience” barrier. As with recycling, making it simpler seems to help; unfortunately, “just as convenient as” isn’t enough to encourage a change in behavior, it seems to require “more convenient than” to make it worth changing the habit. Or some other reward/disincentive in addition, maybe.

    For recycling, I’d love to see our municipality add special days for collecting CFLBs, wire hangers, plastic grocery bags, and batteries, the way they do for Christmas trees. It mightn’t be as simple as the biweekly pick-up, but as it is, they’re spending PSA funds to try to educate folks that those items cannot go in our single-stream recycling bins–and, apparently, losing money and resources when those items are added in disregard of policy.


  5. I totally agree that making it more convenient and/or adding cash incentives would totally help!!

    Even if you are ‘green’ and want to do good, is it really necessary that you almost need a doctorate to figure out where what goes?!
    Making it simpler and easier, and for example having more recycling bins in the community and more frequent emptying of those could really help!

    DSF, aren’t CFLs and batteries collected in shops where you live?

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