I often ask myself why Americans don’t recycle more. I’ve lived in my current home for 14 years and the same percentage of my neighbors recycle: about 30%, or 2 of the 6 families on the cul-de-sac. At times I have made efforts to get them to recycle more, but neither the efforts nor the recycling lasted.

I’ve been tempted lately to have a cul-de-sac event and have all of us bring out our trash and sort it into piles of recyclables and un-recyclables. But I can’t bring myself to broach the subject. I’m afraid—that my neighbors will think I’m a pest, that nobody will want to do it, that I’ll feel slighted. I wish I were better at getting groups to do things. My husband is good at that, so perhaps I should recruit him. Perhaps he could teach me.

Somehow I developed an exaggerated sense that I should not bother people, that I should not impose my own views on them. Yet people do that all the time. It’s called “getting to know someone.” I wish I could find a pleasant way to talk to people about my recycling obsession in person, but for now I’m doing so on my website.

The only way Americans will get to Zero Waste is if they are forced by the government. I wish it weren’t so; I wish there was a business solution. But with landfill fees at only $12/ton in Colorado, recycling doesn’t stand a chance. The state of Colorado could encourage recycling by raising landfill fees, but I have a feeling there’s a pretty effective lobby against that.

Here’s a link to a Boulder nonprofit that’s going for zero waste. This particular page features the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHARM).

Leave A Comment

  1. Todd Bradley July 12, 2010 at 7:40 am - Reply

    Over the weekend, I watched a documentary on PBS called “Garbage Dreams.” That made me think of this post. It’s about people in Cairo who are members of the lowest class, the Zaballeen. They are dirt poor Christians who have been Cairo’s trash collectors for generations. Since they are the experts of garbage, they have learned to extract everything recyclable out of it, and so Cairo had a recycling rate of 80%.


    In one short segment of the program, one boy travels to Wales to see a modern recycling operations, in hopes they may learn ways to modernize the effort in Cairo. But even though they have great technology in Wales, they have “no precision” as the boy says. He’s appalled at the amount of recyclable material that falls through as waste in the modern system that they would pick out to recycle in Cairo.

    It occurred to me that with respect to recycling in Cairo, “nobody is making them” there, either. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The city government contracted with some multi-national corporations to deal with the trash there, pushing the Zaballeen out of business. Now, the recycling rate has fallen from 80% down to something more like you’d see in the US, and people are paying more per family for trash removal than before.

    Finally, I was thinking about our waste stream. We split things into three streams – commingled recyclables, non-recyclable trash, and food waste that can be composted. I would estimate that in our house the ratio on any given week is about 60% recycling, 20% trash, and 20% compost. It’s funny that the trash company gives us this huge trash bin and every week there’s usually just one or one-and-a-half small kitchen garbage bags of trash in it.

  2. Beth Partin July 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    Sounds like Cairo should go back to the Zaballeen.