Recycling as a Carrot (Not a Stick)

by MaryBeth Radeck for SUST 240

Radeck blog image 1 carrotOver the last five years around the country, cities have been penalizing households for ignoring their civic duty to recycle through fines for not recycling. $100 fines to households in Cleveland and whopping $500 fines in San Francisco are levied for ignoring laws on recycling and composting. Punitive, yes. But for good reason. Stowing trash in landfills contributes to global climate change and as landfills settle, toxic wastes leach into the water table, polluting ground and drinking water. It’s senseless and also a waste of limited resources. In 2009, only 34% of waste was recovered, leaving $7 billion of recyclables in landfills, according to America the Beautiful.

The cost to stash trash in landfills not only damages the environment, it eats into municipal budgets and eventually causes tax hikes. A City of St. Louis analysis compared recycling versus landfills and found substantial savings of over $1M per year made possible by a 25% increase in recycling. In addition, the city stands to earn income from selling reclaimed waste and tax income from attracting recycling businesses to St. Louis. Businesses would bring jobs to the area as well. Economically, recycling makes good sense. But forcing it with fines? How about becoming a positive force in the community, instead?

Radeck blog image 2 truck

Houston garbage trucks promote recycling

New, fun ways to make recycling popular are gaining traction in pockets around the country. According to blogger Anna Clark, the City of Houston partners with the Houston Arts Alliance to decorate their fleet of recycling trucks, converting them into moving artworks which promote curbside recycling.

Sculpture at the Lincoln City Art Park made from reclaimed materials from RecycleHere!

Sculpture at the Lincoln City Art Park made from reclaimed materials from RecycleHere!

Detroit, too, ties the art community into recycling. Since they have no curbside service, residents drop off goods at a non-profit called Recycle Here! Their location offers the experience of seeing goods upcycled as sculpture nearby, and the opportunity to attend performances by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and even a production by Shakespeare in Detroit. Recycling has become upcycling–and it’s fun.

Fun with recycling can also be educational and profitable for consumers, not just municipalities. Recyclebank links retail stores, consumers, and municipalities through an incentive program which pays consumers back for recycling. Points are redeemable at national stores like Target, Whole Foods, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Bed Bath & Beyond, as well as at local establishments. Recyclebank educates visitors and also offers sustainable products for purchase directly from their website. Visitors can even earn points from learning about recycling from interactive games on the site itself or from sending in their eWaste to gain points.

As time goes by, there is hope that more and more creative ways to reclaim and reuse items, instead of burying them underground, will be discovered — perhaps by someone in your neighborhood!

Matthew Naimi of Recycle Here!, in front of a piece done by Brown Bag Detroit

Matthew Naimi of Recycle Here!, in front of a piece done by Brown Bag Detroit

Each week during the Fall 2014 / Spring 2015 semesters, students in Prof. Mike Bryson’s SUST 240 Waste classes at Roosevelt University contribute blog posts on urban and suburban sustainability issues to the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

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About Suburban Sustainability

Founder and editor of the Schaumburg's Sustainability Future social media project (est. Earth Day, 2011)
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