J500 Media and the Environment

Recycling? “What rubbish!” by denzylj
January 21, 2008, 11:07 pm
Filed under: Waste + Recycling

So might the thinking be if you’re jobless and wondered where your next meal was going to come from, let alone be pre-occupied by sorting your bottles from your aluminum cans, unless there was some monetary incentive to do so. But living a fairly comfortable existence is no excuse not to aspire to a sustainable lifestyle. Criminal too, to scoff at the predictions of environmental doomsayers. My feeble attempt – cycling and using public transport, as opposed to owning a car, make for an impressive mobility count on the Ecological Footprint Quiz, but amount to precious little in terms of limiting overall biocapacity. I used to recycle, but my former roommates paid scant attention to such considerations – beer cans, bottles, plastic and newspaper were all the same – just trash. Now, I’ve become lazy, my one excuse being that ferrying bags of separated refuse over my shoulders and handlebars, just isn’t conducive to safe riding, not least of all the damage to my tyres pride. Maybe if I had one of these trash hauling bicycles used in some major cities of the world, I could convince myself that as de rigueur as recycling has become, I’d forgo the aesthetic appeal in favor of something utterly unfashionable, yet practical. It’s cold comfort that my footprint is half the national average, and the fact that it would take nearly three planets to maintain my livelihood elicits a knee-jerk response that makes me question the efficacy of the quiz. Still, it’s cause for concern and just like my bike recoils at the prospect of summiting Mount Oread, this whole re(cycling) thing, has become just one, big uphill battle.



8 Comments so far
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Several people, including you, have mentioned the hassle of recycling, and it brings up several thoughts. One is a plug for a service
I use. For a scant $62 per year, they come to my house and pick it all up once a month. Plus, different glasses, and different metals, and different plastics (#1-7) don’t need to be sorted. This makes it convenient, and if there’s one thing the American consumer enjoys, it’s convenience. That’s one of the reasons we have so much packaging to recycle in the first place — it markets convenience to the consumer.

What I’d like to know is whether anything happens to all the recycling, whether you’re hauling your material to Wal-Mart or using a curbside service. There has to be an incentive, e.g., a market, for the recycled goods, or it at least has to pay off in cash for the recycler. Maybe that’s why recycling isn’t a factor in calculating our footprints; maybe it makes a negligible difference overall.

Jen H

Comment by jenh

Jen, The economics of trash make a huge difference in what is (and isn’t) recycled in Lawrence and beyond. Landfill space is abundant here in Lawrence so it’s “cheaper” to throw it away (as we will learn more about on our field trip). And, as Denzyl addressed, easier. In order to change behaviors, we have to appeal to self-interests and additional incentives (“It’s the right thing to do.”) In our roles as storytellers, what is our desired outcome – to inform? inspire? entertain? If we’re writing about trash do we want to encourage people to recycle? If so, what tools do we need to provide to enable that to happen? Is there a line between journalism and advocacy we need to be aware of or worry about?

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

I wanted to echo Prof. Sethi’s comments regaring the morality of environmental activism. I understand that most people are motivated (understandably so) by economic concerns, but I really think our job is to show the human rights–and the common sense–issues involved in environmental activism…I just hope people can look beyond their economic self-interests to “do the right thing” even if it hits them a little in the pocketbook. Easier said than done, I know, but that’s what makes the challenge so interesting.

Ranjit Arab

Comment by rarab

“What I’d like to know is whether anything happens to all the recycling, whether you’re hauling your material to Wal-Mart or using a curbside service.”

You make an important point here, because recycling alone doesn’t make much of a difference if we aren’t supporting the market by purchasing items made of recycled materials. The whole story is to recycle AND buy recycled so it is economically viable. Like many many environmental issues we have become so separated from our garbage that we don’t realize where it ends up. At KU for example, our “trash” gets turned into all sorts of useful products

Jeff Severin

Comment by jseverin

Nice systems thinking! I just discussed a great closed-loop system on the Today Show: Polartec takes waste PET plastic soda bottles and turns them into mittens. When you are done with the mittens (or any Polartec) item, you can send them back to the company and they will turn the item back into yarn and then ultimately a new garment. Recycline uses Stonyfield Farm’s yogurt cup cast-offs to make toothbrushes and cups and they can also be sent back to the company to be recycled into park benches. When we look at waste products as inputs for future products, the whole waste management paradigm shifts. We’ll be watching a film about that very soon.

Simran Sethi

Comment by j500

It’s not easy to recycle if you don’t have a car. I understand you feel lazy about it. Luckily my roommate has a car, so she can take those waste to Walmart or Dillon’s. I wish there’d be recycle collection or apartment complexes have their own recycle bins.

Sachiko M

Comment by sachikom

well not all small towns make it easy to recycle. With bins set out, but far away for us that walk only, no car. Still, it is a step (pun) in the right direction. I think driving adds a lot of pollution to the air, but that’s another subject.

Comment by karen608

A month’s worth of trash, ready for recycling – that with my size 12 “footprint,” double if you consider my roommate. Well Jen, hopefully the $62 wouldn’t be paying for some gas-guzzling monstrosity sputtering and spewing noxious carbon dioxide gases on its rounds in Lawrence. That would, I imagine, defeat the whole purpose of striving for sustainable living. Forgive me if this all sounds rather facetious. But, for all the common sense it represents, I’d venture that many consumers would be reluctant to fork out $62 a year, when its so convenient to just throw all the waste away into the same bin.

I spoke with my roommate about my initial posting, emphasizing the laissez-faire attitude I experienced by my former roommates towards recycling. He simply shrugged his shoulders. It was difficult to read whether there was unease, or mere indifference. He did say though that his dad recycles, so presumably he’d do likewise, that’s if he didn’t have to consider how he’d get the waste materials to an appropriate site. To answer you bluntly then, no its not going to Walmart or any curbside device, but all in one big dumpster and with it, a measure of guilt.


Comment by denzylj

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