The American version of recycling is drastically inferior to methods used in other nations. Americans see recycling as a catch-all area that includes paper, plastic, glass, cardboard, and more. In reality these materials have to be separated upon arrival at a processing facility in order for each material to be repurposed individually. When items like pizza boxes are unfortunately placed in recycling they slow down the sorting process and sometimes ruin entire batches of recycled materials. In order to fix recycling Americans must pre-sort recycled materials and local government must stop subsidizing waste disposal.
The generic blue bin is used for all forms of recycling. People insert items into these bins that aren’t recyclable such as bottle caps, Styrofoam, and plastic bags. Other countries often have multiple types of recycling bins for different materials. Because Americans aren’t aware of what exactly belongs in the blue bin, they tend to insert whatever they think belongs there. These pieces have to be sorted out, which slows down recycling, and has the potential to ruin other items to the point where both the recyclable and the non-recyclable items in a batch will end up in a landfill. These landfill items such as plastic bags and six-pack rings end up in our waterways and damage aquatic life. If curbside trash collection and commercial waste disposal were to switch to multiple small recycling bins instead of one large blue bin, it would speed up recycling and lower costs. It would also educate the American public about what exactly is recyclable and prevent unnecessary waste. This concept should be introduced to children in grade school, so that the next generations will recycle responsibly but also because they may pass the knowledge along to their parents and family members alike.
Most Americans live in urban areas and most urban areas offer curbside trash pickup. This service is either funded by municipal taxes or annual participant fees. Due to this payment model, the cost of waste disposal is never truly present in the minds of consumers. They simply live their lives, produce quantities of trash, put it in the bins, and that’s the last they ever think of it. The current payment model is not incentivizing waste-producers to reduce their footprint. Waste collection should be charged on a per pickup rate and it should only be charged to those who produce it. Right now a family that produces a full bin of trash each week pays the same amount as a family that produces half a bin of trash and a family that doesn’t use their bin and instead takes it directly to the dump. In an ideal world the first family should pay for collection once a week. The second family should pay every other week. And the third family shouldn’t owe a dime. This will create a free market incentive encouraging households to reduce their waste production and reuse items when possible. This will lead to cleaner oceans and a safer environment.
Essay by: Anthony Louis Rosenblum
Arizona State University