Shouldn’t Every Day be America Recycles Day by Now?

Plastic bag recycling centerNovember 15th is officially America Recycles Day. Sponsored by the National Recycling Coalition, America Recycles Day

is the only nationally recognized day dedicated to encouraging Americans to recycle and to buy recycled products. Celebrating its 11th year, it has grown to include millions of Americans pledging to increase their recycling habits at home and work and to buy products made with recycled materials.

I know that attention needs to be called to recycling so I don’t have a problem with the National Recycling Coalition sponsoring this day.

What I have to wonder, though, is why isn’t America at the point where a day like this is obsolete? Why do we need to have a special day to remind us to recycle? Why isn’t recycling so ingrained in our life that we don’t even think twice about it? Shouldn’t every day be America Recycles Day by now?

I already know one of the answers. For so long we’ve been focused on convenience and recycling can seem inconvenient. I realized just how inconvenient some people viewed it when my town went to single stream, or co-mingled, recycling pick up. Instead of having to separate the items that are picked up in our curbside recycling program, residents can now put them all in one container. I found out at our town Green Team meeting that this would increase how much gets recycled in our town.

I asked why.  I was told that statistically, people are much more willing to recycle when they don’t have to separate items.

Seriously? Some people won’t separate their paper from their cans/bottles? It’s too much work?

I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. I just need to think about what I see at our swim club in the summer. Right next to every trash can is a recycling can. But if you look into the cans you’ll see that people can’t be bothered to separate their trash from their bottles. They throw everything into one or the other. I sit there and watch sometimes as intelligent adults walk up and don’t take the three seconds it would take to separate the trash from the recyclables.

It’s clear that every day is not America Recycles Day. If recycling isn’t happening when the ability to do so is placed right in front of us, I know the items that are recyclable but not easily collected aren’t making it to the right places. So my next question is, how do we get there? How do we become a nation where recycling is the norm?

Here are some things I know I can do.

  • I can be an example. I can make sure that the pile at my curb on Thursday for the recycling truck to pick up is much larger than the pile at my curb on Friday for the trash truck to pick up.
  • I can educate through my writing here, on my personal blog, and other places.
  • I can teach my children to recycle and expect it of them. I can tell them they need to fish the yogurt container out of the yucky trash can and put it outside in the recycling bucket.
  • I can learn where to recycle things that aren’t easily recyclable and make sure they get to those places. And, when people ask if I know how to recycle something like wine corks, I can say, “Yes, you can do it here.” Or, I can say, “No, but I’ll see if I can find that out for you.”
  • Since people still need to be reminded to recycle, I can put a link to America Recycles Day on my Facebook page.
  • I can continue to work with my town’s Green Team to get recycling initiatives in place in my town.

What can you do to help recycling become the norm in America and not something we need a national day to remind people to do?

  1. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    Great post, Robin! You and I are fortunate in that we live in (relatively) large metropolitan areas where recycling is much more available… I know once you get out of those areas, though, accessibility becomes an issue.

    Also, I think we do ourselves a disservice by still trying to motivate people to recycle via guilt and/or a “right vs. wrong” approach. I think companies like RecycleBank have the right idea: create a system for rewarding people for recycling. Recyclables are commodities, so, at some level, people should be rewarded/paid for these materials. I know recyclers say the price they receive for materials makes most approaches to paying for recyclable materials unsustainable, but I think that we have to continue to think creatively about ways to make recycling an activity tied to more concrete rewards…

  2. Adam Shake

    Hi Robin,
    I’ll second Jeff on that. People tend to have a “push back” reflex when we write about what they are doing wrong. Jeff mentioned “RecycleBank.” An excellent program, of which I’m fortunately now a part of. It’s single stream recycling, and there is no more separating. (though I don’t mind at all separating)They just gave me a new 60+ gallon bin and the truck that picks it up, weighs it and I get points per pound to spend. Unfortunately, it just might take people getting paid to recycle, to get on the bandwagon, but it’s a novel, well needed approach to get the purple side over to the green side.

    Excellent article, once again, Robin.


  3. Mike Driehorst

    While it would be nice to not HAVE to have a national recycling day, as you and others have said, it is needed.

    City and local gov’ts need to incentivize recycling (not dissincentivize not recycling — like charging more those who do not recycle), and make it easier. While recycling is a great idea, there are too many convenience and cost obstacles that CAN get in the way.

    Once we have a generation or so of incentivized recycling, only then it’ll become natural.

    But, then we’d have to recycle Nov. 15 as a national something day, right?!
    Take care,

  4. Stephanie - Green SAHM

    We start teaching recycling at a young age in my family. Both of my kids by age 2 had a pretty good notion as to what went into the trash versus recycling, and to ask when in doubt.

    It’s important to build habits young. The schools here do recycling as well, and talk to the kids about picking up trash they pass by on the way home. It works, although there are always those lazy enough to drop their trash on the ground in the first place.

    I do love that recycling here is in just one bin since that does mean more people will recycle. It gets sorted at the facility, in part by hand since machines can’t do it all. I’d recycle either way, but since many wouldn’t, I consider the single bin option a great choice.

  5. Bobby B.

    I do not understand why “you greens” (There’s that blanket generalization again.) treat recycling differently from most other environmental issues. Generally, the greens seek to put the onus of change upon the wealthiest benefactors. The M-O generally involves green lobbyists petitioning the legislative authorities to force change upon the producers of whatever boogey-man sits in their crosshairs. The technique has been – and is being used – against the manufacturers of pesticides, herbicides, irradiation, pulp and paper, oil, coal, nuclear power, etc. and so forth. Recycling, in stark contrast, continues to be marketed as some sort of wholesome, soul cleansing, grassroots movement. Why not get the change you seek by targeting the recycling companies and the municipalities that reap the PROFITS from this BUSINESS? Why continue to guilt every individual into providing labor and raw materials to these entities free of charge?

    “You greens” (Wow! Twice in one post.) should understand by now how the market naturally reacts to your regulatory mandates. How have the businesses listed in the first paragraph dealt with the changes forced upon them? They have passed the upstream cost increases to their downstream customers. Since that seems to be the model that works the best, why not do the same for recyclables? The recyclers would pay each individual a small fee for his labor and pay for the raw materials left at the street based on weight, the city continues to get its cut (kickback) for providing a captive wellspring of raw materials, and the end users who want to purchase goods made from recyclables pay a little more to cover the additional costs. Joe Sixpack would probably recycle a case of empties for enough cash to buy just one or two tall boys. Would the average green be willing to pay just a little more for whatever product gets made from Joe’s recyclables?

  6. Robin Shreeves

    Jeff & Adam – you guys trying to say I’m being a bit too hard on people. Perhaps a little judgmental? Who me? I try not, too, really.

    We have a town nearby who is involved with RecycleBank. There have been some news articles about how it’s working, but I haven’t kept up with the progress.

    Mike – you and the comments above yours talk about incentives for recycling. I suppose in my mind (that tries not to be judgmental) I think that doing the right thing for the earth and for future generations should be a good enough incentive. Perhaps I need to accept that no one (including myself) can always do the right thing just because it’s the right thing and consider the incentive options.

    Stephanie – thanks for teaching your kids. I’m always leary about my kids picking up trash if it’s food trash. I usually tell them to leave it. I do have them pick up paper trash. Which of course, sends them a mixed message.

  7. Robin Shreeves

    Bobby – Why shouldn’t individuals be responsible for the waste they generate? Let’s take boxes from the cereal that my children inhale each morning. Sure a company made the cereal and the boxes. And the environmental responsibilities of the creation of the cereal and box are on the heads of the company.

    But once I buy that box of cereal, it’s my responsibility to make sure the box gets taken care of in the best way because it is now my box. I certainly can’t expect say Kashi or even Kelloggs to take the box back. It’s not their’s. It’s mine. I bought it. I’m responsible for it.

    So I need to recycle it. I’m all for individual responsibility when it comes to taking care of the earth. I understand the necessity at times for rules or laws to be set up by the government, but believe me, I would much rather companies and individuals do the right thing before the government feels it needs to step in. If you noticed, I ended the article with what I can do, not with what the government can do. And I asked what you can do. Not what you can ask the government to do.

    You know, on any given day I can’t do anything about coal or pesticides besides perhaps choose not to use them. But those things don’t come up on a daily basis for me. But for me, and for every person I know, getting rid of trash is a daily thing. I can make several choices each day to recycle or not. I’m all for choosing to recycle and encouraging regular people to do the same. If someone else makes a little money off of the fact that I put the box from my kids’ cereal in the recycling bin instead of the trash can, then so be it.

    And yes – I am willing to pay more for products that have been made from recycled materials, although I know that not everyone is in the position to spend the extra money. But I am, so I often do.

  8. Bobby B.

    Robin, I do not disagree with you motives. However, your post indicates that encouraging others, setting good examples, and celebrating a recycling holiday continue to fall short of being effective. That indicates that you are dissatisfied with the progress to date of such techniques. When the frustration tipping point is reached, will you or your cohorts resort to the tried-and-true tactics of the past? As I suspect this nation is about to learn, “change” requires ACTION more than “hope.” My illustrations noted the ACTIONS that some call the green movement’s greatest successes. We would all probably like to teach the world to sing with a Coke and a smile, but politicking to mandate Coke and/or ban Pepsi would be a more effective means of bringing about those ends. I do not particularly agree with such methods, but I do respect their effectiveness.
    Also, even though you are in a financial position to donate your wastes to recyclers who in turn make millions of dollars, offering to pay those who are not could be just the motivation they need to make the “positive” change. As an aside, hopefully YOUR wealth does not reside in a 401k or an IRA. Use a search engine to look up the name Teresa Ghilarducci to see what Representatives George Miller and Jim McDermott might be considering as the proper use of YOUR savings.

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