Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stepping out of my bubble...

Over the past 14 months I've been living in what I can only call my green bubble. I've been surrounded by people who recycle, compost, grow their own food, shop at Farmer's Markets, turn off their lights, choose bikes over cars, study and work in fields that strive towards sustainability and, at the least, are trying to learn more about how they can improve the world we live in. I get daily emails about events taking place in the name of sustainability including fruit tree planting in the park and there is always some influential speaker, like Bill McKibben, Thomas Friedman or Slow Food's Josh Viertel visiting campus.

In short, I live in a green bubble where my hopes and dreams of a sustainable lifestyle flourish.

Don't get me wrong....I am aware that outside of this bubble there is a community that is not yet on the sustainability track. I visit those communities often when I travel for work, but until recently I had not realized how far off track some of these communities truly were. I had not realized how far from reality my green bubble had drifted.

I don't expect everyone to compost (although honestly, why not?) or grown their own vegetables (although, it seriously is a great way to save some money) or choose a bike or energy efficient car over their big gas guzzlers (okay, maybe I do expect people to reconsider purchasing gas guzzlers, but I am realistic and know some people just won't). I don't even expect people to know why it is important to become more sustainable, but the one thing I did expect everyone to know about was recycling.

So imagine my surprise when I heard the principal of a small school in rural North Carolina announce to her students that they would start recycling soon. Did she say START recycling? Isn't this 2011? Didn't a law go into effect in 2009 making recycling mandatory in North Carolina?

Source:Green Living Answers
Despite this law, none of these children (or teachers) knew which items could be recycled. They didn't know, because not only was their school not recycling, they weren't recycling at home either. That's 25 families that are throwing away 4.5lbs of trash per person per day of which at least 50% is probably recyclable.

The worst part was that it was not their choice whether they recycled or not. Not only were these people not educated about the importance of recycling, their communities and governments were actually not providing them with ways to recycle! No bins per home, no recycling pick-up, no recycling container within the apartment complexes.

So here we are trying to educate people on living a more sustainable lifestyle, but the main problem isn't that they don't want to do it, they just can't. Sure they can drive their recycling to a drop-off point or pay an extra fee for a special pick-up, but you don't have to be a behavior analyst to see that recycling, a behavior that should be reinforced, is actually being punished. And let's be honest, wouldn't you be a little less likely to recycle in this situation?

Source: Headwaters Cooperative Recycling
There's a law in place mandating recycling in North Carolina, yet in 30 days, these 25 families (or approximately 75 people) will be sending nearly 5000 lbs of trash to the landfill that does not need to be there. And they are not the only ones!

In 2007, Treehugger published data that showed that 23% of Americans did not recycle and some sources suggest that this number is actually closer to 30%. Not only are these people probably not educated about recycling, but they also have limited access to recycling facilities. Resource Recycling stated that only 63% have access to curbside recycling and only 68% have access to drop-off recycling.

The government keeps talking about jobs. Well here's a simple job creating idea...teach your country to recycle. Not only does this reduce our waste, but according to A Recycling Revolution, it also creates 1.1 million U.S. jobs. Even better,  it creates 4 jobs for every 1 job created in waste management, all the while costing less than a regular waste-collection program. On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill and $65-75 to incinerate it. Additionally, in many cases reusing recycled products to create new products actually saves resources and money.

Here are a few fun facts courtesy of A Recycling Revolution:

  • There is no limit to the number of times an aluminum can can be recycled and a used aluminum can is recycled and back on the grocery shelf as a new can in as little as 60 days.
  • If all of our newspaper was recycled, we could save 250,000,000 trees!
  • Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as burning it in an incinerator and as many as 1 million sea creatures.
  • Substituting recycled glass for half of the raw materials needed to produce new glass, cuts the waste produced by more than 80%!

So if you aren't recycling, start today!

Each city has their own recycling rules, but in general paper, cans, glass and plastic can all be recycled. Plastic bags (including clean and dry Ziploc bags and the plastic packaging of many items like toilet paper, electronics and water bottles) can also be recycled (check out Plasticbagrecycling.org for more).

So while I bring my green bubble closer to the real world, I highly encourage you to step into my green bubble. While recycling may sound tedious and time consuming, it's actually an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint, help create new jobs and reduce the cost of your future purchases (especially if you buy products made from recycled materials)! When combined with reusing and some smart purchasing (i.e. use a Brita filter and water bottle instead of plastic water bottles and our household absolutely swears by our SodaStream), you'd be amazed how much money you can save, and who doesn't want to save some money nowadays!

Source Environment-Green

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