Where are we now?
Nowhere, really, but anything is better than nothing. And that’s somewhere, I guess. So the basic question is: why are all of our recycling programs so lame? And the answer is: because it is another crisis that is not a crisis. Just like the energy crisis, global warming, and so on.
The fact is that each of these crises provides no immediate pain, pleasure or fear that impacts each one of us directly in our daily lives. The effects are too gradual or hidden from us for us to notice them or do anything about them. Because of this, no one will do anything. For example, gasoline prices had to hit over $4.00 a gallon before people started to drive less and buy smaller more efficient vehicles. And how does the government deal with these non-crisis events? They begin a series of public education programs.
Here’s an excerpt from the state of Arizona recycling program annual report:
“The Arizona Recycling Program focuses on public education for the ultimate goal of influencing human behavior to properly reduce and dispose of solid waste, and to encourage the participation of source reduction, reuse, and recycling. Although the basic structure of recycling education is often centered around the hierarchy of reducing, reusing and recycling (3 Rs) solid waste, the program also identifies waste reduction techniques to clarify the 3 Rs.”
I don’t know the results of all the studies about how effective public educational programs are, but I know from my observations of my own human behavior that they’re extremely ineffective. I spend most of my time on computers and the Internet and I see very little about recycling or anything else green (the word green is now used everywhere and means nothing). Most of the stuff I see in the news on the web sites is either a sensational crisis (a real one that has immediate pain, fear and death involved) or sports and Hollywood. On a slow news day, I might see something useful or educational.
And again, while I am not Einstein, I’ve seen these things before and I know a little about how things work. From what I’ve seen, education alone does not and will not work. If I want somebody to do something, I pay them to do it or punish them for not doing it. And it is a lot more rewarding to reward than to punish.
When I was a kid, there was a deposit on bottles, so you would never see a discarded bottle laying anywhere. And when the cost of aluminum skyrocketed, a day wouldn’t go by when I didn’t see someone walking around gathering up discarded aluminum cans.
So now let’s talk about a possible practical application. There are many things that are not aluminum or plastic, but are really bad if we throw them in the garbage and let them go to the landfills. One of these things is batteries. Batteries are full of toxins.
I’m going to focus on dry cell batteries because I see so many in the garbage and not in the proper recycling bins at my condominium complex.
According to Environment, Health and Safety Online (see http://www.ehso.com/ehshome/batteries.php), Americans purchase nearly three billion of these batteries every year and in my opinion probably toss out about that many every year as well. The reason I bring this up is because I just saw something on the television news the other night about proper disposal of these batteries. So I’m putting all of mine in a bag right now and saving them in the basement. When I have enough (or too many) of them, I will go find a place to get rid of them. Which highlights another great feature of all these recycling programs: I have to spend time and money to get rid of this stuff. If I would just happen to throw them in the garbage, it takes no time and cost me no money. Where’s my incentive? Save the world? With most of us becoming poorer every day, I’m sure we’d all be willing to sacrifice a little more.
One thing I do know is that my kids never watch TV, but they do go through a lot more of those batteries in their MP3 players, game controllers and countless other wireless and portable devices than I do. And even though I remind them once in awhile about how they should be handling the batteries differently than regular trash I don’t think they are. Regardless of how they are handling them now, I think that if there were a small deposit on each and every battery they might think twice about throwing them away and if they did throw them away someone might dig through the trash to retrieve them.
Three billion batteries is a lot of batteries and I think this would be a great place to start. The objective is to keep these nasty poisons out of our landfills so the land from the landfills themselves can be reused eventually and the stuff doesn’t work its way into our groundwater. What do you think about this idea? Do you think it would work?