Need For Clarity on Recycling

recycling paper cardboardI make no secret about my love for recycling. When it comes to the measures necessary to achieve a more sustainable society, the recycling industry represents not only one of the greatest opportunities for positive change but also one of the most feasible to implement. Despite this, even in our cities, we lag far behind the opportunities that are possible, resulting in vastly more waste than is necessary. Having the access to a recycling program is still a factor, but moreover the populace may need an updated and more detailed refresher course on why recycling is so important.

GOOD Magazine recently released an infographic about recycling that tries to depict efforts in figuring out what is holding us back in being more diligent in dealing with our trash appropriately. One diagram of excuses highlights a series of the lackluster results that we would come to expect: 25% say recycling is not easily accessible, 10% say it is too time consuming (um… what?) and 10% blame forgetfulness (read: negligence). A different series of images portrays a list of benefits that supposedly already register with people. I found this list far more revealing.

81% of respondents know that recycling diverts waste from landfills. 69% know that it “saves trees” and 62% admit to knowing that it saves energy. A better question is: how many people know why any of those things are actually important? Yes, recycling does reduce the amount of waste in landfills, but aside from the 1990’s dictum that Landfills=BAD do people realize why landfills can pose a danger to the environment, let alone our drinking water? Saving energy is undoubtedly important, but not just for efficiency’s sake. For Americans, less energy consumption is less coal use, which means less sulfur dioxide in the air; less asthma cases in our cities; less coal effluent flushed into our water supply from power plants and fewer mountain and river ecosystems compromised.

While I commend the effort for the gathering and organizing of the data into something that is clear and palatable, I found the results to be incomplete and representative of the incomplete perspective that too many Americans have on any number of issues, including sustainability. Our quest to condense information for quick delivery ultimately compromises our ability to present all aspects of a given problem. Who’s fault is this? Maybe no one’s and everyone’s at the same time. Either way, ignorance could be much more damaging than apathy.

I have gone as far as suggesting that a federal mandate on recycling could give us the push we need towards the right direction (the right direction being jobs, public health and a more ecological sound economy). Would more people recycle if they had a better handle on all that it provides? I’d like to think so. We will not know until we are more confident that the level of common knowledge has raised the bar on the components of the repercussions of our own daily actions. If regional recycling efforts can gain a level of stability and critical mass then more resource streams can solidify our path towards transitioning to an economy of reuse where we can effectively price trash out of existence.