This is particularly true in our community of Manhattan, Kansas. We have a successful private sector business built around recycling. It should be easy for us to see the real value from the quantity of waste not going to the landfill and, in the process, providing jobs and success for a local business. I know that picture is not available everywhere. I remember my best friend Joel at the ranch using a recycling program, until one day he saw the recycling truck pull into the local landfill to dump. I don’t know if that was a one-timer or not (or perhaps they had already separated the recyclables and were dumping the remaining waste from their facility), but I can understand that seeing it through that lens could easily lead to dumping it all or, at the very least, questioning the value of the program.
Other cities and counties have different models, but many consist of some level of public-private partnership. Some towns that have publicly-run trash collection, for instance, choose to contract with a private company that handles the collection and sale of recycled materials. Other municipal governments choose to issue separate bins for recycling, manage the collection, and then sell the recyclable materials in bulk to a buyer in the private sector. There is usually an additional fee for the recycling service, however, the more people who adopt the program and contribute their recyclable materials, the more revenue that can be generated from the sale of the materials, and—especially when you factor in the reduction in waste heading to the landfill—the lower the per-household fee could be. So both the user and the government can experience lower costs in the long-run and we can make a bigger dent in the unsustainable growth happening in our landfills.
No matter the model, it is clear that awareness and education efforts must be part of the solution, as personal costs and environmental impacts will rely on getting more people to participate in recycling. Perhaps, over time, we can work to ease the concerns of people who are skeptical, like my friend Joel, and demonstrate the real value it has to our future. For me, it is quite simple. Whether for the environment or saving tax dollars by extending the life of the landfill, everyone—conservative, moderate, or liberal—should have at least one good reason to support a community recycling program. Any way you look at it, green is the winning color, either for the environment or the green in your wallet.
But I’d like to hear from you: Leave a comment below sharing your thoughts and/or experiences with recycling in your community or nationwide. Is recycling important? What program models have you seen in action? How could they be improved? What will it take to get more people to participate in recycling efforts?
Perhaps our dialogue can bring about some progress on this issue.