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The Central Problem with Recycling
Home Social Issues Environment
By: Mark Montoya Email Article
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One of the biggest hurdles in the battle to bring recycling into regular usage is inconvenience. It mainly comes in two forms: one, the act of actually separating your garbage into recyclable and non-recyclable items, removing labels and so forth, and two, actually getting these items to a dedicated recycling center. While the former can be improved upon through educating the public as to the wealth of recyclable materials they just throw in the trash, and stressing the economic and environmental advantages to putting forth this at-home effort, the latter is slightly more difficult to overcome.

While many waste management services now offer curbside pick-up for recycling throughout the week, the numbers have been dropping; between 2003 and 2006, the number of curbside recycling programs dropped by over 200. While this may not seem like a precipitous decline, waste management is a huge problem in America, and any backslide while our population continues to grow could spell disaster for future citizens. This is especially true of apartment complexes and the ilk, where people share a large communal dumpster with no recourse for their recycling, and even more so of large waste-producing businesses such as restaurants where proper disposal of recyclable material is marginalized in favor of ease of operation. The long and short of it is recycling centers are neither prolific enough nor prevalent enough in the public discourse on recycling to effect an amelioration of these wasteful practices; curbside pickup is simply not enough.

To truly see the scope of this issue, we need to crunch a few numbers. There are 74,000 recycling centers in the United States today. The population of our country is approximately 300,000,000. That’s one recycling center for every 4054 people in the country. This sounds like a somewhat reasonable load for them to take on—until we consider just how much trash the U.S. really produces. It is estimated that the U.S. averages 4.6 pounds of trash per person, per day. This means that those 4054 people are producing on the order of 9 tons of trash per day. While granted not all of this is recyclable material, most of it is. According to the Montgomery Clean City Commission, 70% of everything people just throw in the garbage can be recycled, leaving still about 6 and a half tons of recyclable material for every recycling center in the United States to manage.

While it may be naive to suggest that we should build enough recycling centers just in case we one day reach 100% recycling efficiency, building more of them would certainly increase our overall recycling trends. Something that is more available is always more appealing; simply look at how likely people are to eat fast food simply because of how omnipresent they are. Furthermore, increasing the number of recycling centers would increase the likelihood of people taking advantage of "pay as you throw" programs, in which people are actually monetarily compensated for their recycling efforts. 100% efficiency is a lofty goal, but there is doubtless need for improvement that could be found in building smaller, more prolific recycling centers.

Written by Mark Montoya+, an industry writer for a recycling center provider in the Chicago area.

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