Thursday, August 16, 2012

What do we have to lose?

It seems the fashionable thing to do these days is to repurpose things and create trendy crafts using some old materials. Why? What happened to our throw-away society and single use everything? Are we really changing our ways and recycling and reusing more now than we had been for the last 20 years?

No, I don’t think this is the case. Consider this: A recent study on the composition of the U.S. landfills conducted by the nonprofit organization, As You Sow, estimates that more than $11.4 billion worth of recyclable packaging is thrown out annually.

$11.4 billion.

I wonder how many jobs could be created by diverting those materials for recycling. Considering that the recycling industry as it is (with only a 34% national recycling rate) employs more people than the U.S. auto industry, I would think this would be significant. 

With the push for the green movement and many cities across the country revamping their recycling programs you would think we have made more of a dent than this number suggests. And maybe we have, but population continues to go up as well. So right along with it there is more consumption and more things being bought and thrown out. 

But it’s popular to recycle, right? Yes, and studies show that people are more likely to recycle if their neighbors are doing it. Or they at least say they are. How many of us know or have known someone who says they will recycle your can for you but you later see it in the garbage can? If people are so ashamed of not recycling why don’t they just recycle? I suppose there are many reasons. We could go into all of those arguments against recycling that have been debunked over and over again but I think the reasons are much simpler.

Time, hassle, cost (in some cases), space for bins, and ultimately I think the biggest hurdle is changing habits. I have heard it said that it takes 3 months of continuously performing a new task before it becomes habit.

These are the reasons why the target audience for recycling and other sustainable lifestyle messages is children. If they grow up hearing it over and over and practicing it in school, they are bound to bring home what they learn and influence their parents and siblings. Hopefully, these efforts will make a difference. I wonder if this generation will be the generation that ends up mining material out of landfills and taking advantage of the trillions of dollars that are sealed up in these man-made mountains.

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