Telling people to do something is one thing. Actually getting people to do it is a completely different ballpark. When it comes to recycling, there are two sides of a scale which civilians sit on: either they believe it is effective and it can help reduce climate change and provide jobs, or that there is no real purpose and is just some government scheme. The future of recycling and its effectiveness will depend on incentivizing people to recycle. One such program, the single-stream recycling system, allows people to dispose of all their recycling in one group rather than sorting it out based on plastic types, metals, etc. After this program was introduced in the 1990’s consumers started to take a more active role in recycling. This would be a good thing, however, contaminants within recycling to around a quarter of everything that is recycled in the U.S. According to a National Geographic Article written by Howard Brian, the cost of removing contaminants is “an average of three dollars per ton more to maintain than dual-stream systems, in which paper products are collected separately from other items”. While switching to dual-stream systems would reduce the cost of purifying the recycled materials, it would simultaneously increase the cost of collection and make it more difficult for consumers to recycle, thus decreasing their motivation to do so. If the single-stream program continues then improvements need to be made to decrease costs caused by contamination. In the same article, the author mentions that there are unemployed people, most of them homeless, who sort through garbage and sell recycled materials back to recycling companies, and these people greatly reduce the amount of contaminants. To motivate more people to pick up trash and make sure recyclables make it to the right processing plants, these informal workers should be formalized and made into proper employees who work for a wage. This would create more jobs as well.

Another recycling program that has motivated American citizens to participate in recycling more frequently is the bottle drop program. For this program, people save their bottles and cans and go to a center where they can deposit their cans in exchange for money. Typically, you would receive 5 to 10 cents per bottle or can. Recently, Oregon has increased the money received per bottle from 5 cents to 10 cents. In response beverage containers recovered from this program “has jumped from 64 percent just two years ago, and the total number of bottles recycled reached an all-time high of 2 billion in 2018” (Profita, Cassandra). By giving people more money it gives them more motivation to recycle. It can provide an extra source of income for informal trash pickers, homeless persons, or kids looking for an extra source of cash. This program along with single-stream recycling would give people a reason to recycle and could further stimulate the economy as well as help with issues such as climate change.

Howard, Brian. “5 Recycling Myths Busted.” National Geographic, 31 Oct. 2018

Profita, Cassandra. “Oregon Bottle Deposit System Hits 90 Percent Redemption Rate.” NPR, NPR, 4 Feb. 2019

Essay by: Riley Hall
Arizona State University

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