Recycling: Remove Sticky Tape Before Saving Planet
‘Saving the planet’ is a project which must surely involve everyone; but apparently not all designers of domestic recycling technology agree. For recycling to be effective, design should logically follow, not lead, function. This requires an understanding of how ordinary people will use recycling opportunities – before systems are designed, not as an afterthought.
Stories abound of people who have been fined for recycling things in the ‘wrong’ way – collections with mixed content, paper with an individual’s name on it as ‘proof’ that they put items in the wrong repository, using a compost heap inappropriately – all make good stories to create media martyrdom to the recycling regulations.
Short-term technology before people
Almost anything can be recycled, but at present it seems Local Authorities decide for themselves what they will and will not process. Often immediate costs are not measured against the long-term implications of not taking action now. Despite challenging targets set by central government, few of us are yet holding local decision-makers to account for by-passing future sustainabilty…. if we were, there would be more conversations around involving ‘ordinary people’.
The factors which feature most in local decision are likely to be the economics of recycling, available recycling technologies and where to locate recycling facilities (including the NIMBY – ‘not in my backyard’ – factor). Public understanding of the very serious situation we are all in is rarely discussed.
What repeated stories of fines and public naming show is how very far officialdom may be from the real need to get the public on-board, and quickly.
Silly civic expectations
Our own City Council is party to non-automated recycling processes which still do not accommodate some recyclable plastics. Yet the need is to raise the currently very poor performance of the city, at just 7.6% – when one council already achieves 50%, the Government target for all councils by 2020.
Doubtless, those who have designed the process see it as innovative and positive; and certainly it is better than what preceded it.
But is the City Council serious? I however will continue to have my doubts whilst the Council briefing, issued to every household in the City, includes the instruction to ‘Please remove sellotape‘ before recycling gift wrapping paper – an instruction which was even issued as part of the recycling initiative last Christmas. (How else would one spent Christmas afternoon?)
Citizens as wrong-doers or as partners?
Whether individuals intentionally break the rules, or do so unknowingly, the outcome if detected is the same: a news story which makes others wary of doing anything at all.
The physical technology exists to recycle pretty well everything; processes are available for all domestic waste, if the budget and machinery are up to it.
Making people into media stories because of their recycling behaviour will simply encourage their fellow citizens to cynicism and an unwillingness to recycle at all, for fear of wrong-doing.
Sustainable behaviours are not optional
The imperative to get recycling is urgent.
We need, very soon, to get much cleverer about how to help everyone be part of the solution, not the problem.
Read more articles on Environment and Sustainability:
Conserve, Recycle & Sustain and
Sustainability As If People Mattered.