Growing up my dad had a saying that locks were for keeping honest people honest. That is the simple way of saying that most people are honest but when presented with an easy opportunity to steal some will make different choices. In addition, a lock will not stop a person who is determined to steal. Most of us adhere to this principal by locking doors, keeping valuables out of plain sight in our vehicle, hiding valuables in our shoe while at the beach, and so on.
The world is made up of rules; some social, some moral, and some legal. Often rules that begin as social or moral will evolve in to legal rules in order to help a greater portion of society do the right thing and create consequences for those that do not. There are countless examples of this. Years ago it used to be just fine to burn old tires, dump mercury filled electronics in landfills, use leaded paint on toys, treat asbestos construction debris the same as all other construction debris, dump waste directly in to waterways, etc. While we might still see a pile of tires on the side of the freeway from time to time or hear about a load of old CRT computer monitors being found at the bottom of a lake; it is safe to say that the majority people understand the reason for laws and abide by them.
As new laws and regulations are introduced for discussion, the default argument against them tends to be that it will have a negative impact on the economy and result in job loss. As it relates to environmental issues, introducing economic fear in to the equation is typically an effective means of creating inaction. Businesses, especially those who rely on fossil fuels should be diversifying their portfolio of products and protecting their own financial sustainability while adapting to a changing marketplace. Laws and regulations have shown us the positive environmental impact of shifts to unleaded gasoline, regulating CFC’s, implementing the clean water and the clean air acts, and countless other efforts put forth by the EPA, PCA, and other agencies.
Today we have regulations around recycling that are intended to prevent hazardous materials from making it in to landfills. In addition, the list of materials which are banned from MN landfills includes source separated recyclables like aluminum, glass, paper, and certain plastics. Despite this, in MN over 1/3 of what we throw away is recyclable. To add some perspective, according to the MN Pollution Control Agency 6 out of every 10 aluminum cans (3.6M per day) are sent to the landfill every day in MN despite being 100% recyclable. In recent years I have run in to several people who ‘do not believe in recycling’. This is a bit mind boggling to me as recycling has been made so convenient for homeowners where for the most part we no longer need to sort the recycling and there are obvious environmental and economic benefits. The money trash haulers make from recycling helps keep waste removal costs down.
Adding regulations to recycling has helped a great deal but making it convenient for people has been equally as important. In the past few months I have seen a lack of convenience be an issue while at an amusement park, a high school football game, and even a backyard party. In all three instances there were lots of beverages in single use recyclable containers and yet no easy access to a recycling bin. Most people when presented with this dilemma simply choose to throw the recyclable item away in the trash. We (myself included) need to demand more in these situations. This could be as simple as sending the establishment an e-mail asking for improvements or as heinous as making a spectacle while turning your cooler in to a make shift recycle bin so you can bring the items home and keep them out of the land fill. Today, there are even options for recycling car seats, shoes, keys, holiday lights, and more. Many options can be found at Recycle Minnesota and the reasons not to recycle do not hold much weight in today’s society.
While recycling alone is not going to save the planet, it certainly helps make it a lot more habitable and has tangible economic benefits. Please ensure that events you are a part of organizing have ample recycling capacity so we can keep the honest people honest and reinforce people making good social, moral, and legal decisions. Just like locks won’t prevent all thefts, recycle bins will not stop all recyclables from getting in to landfills but they certainly increase the percentages. Recycling should be just as automatic as using a lock to protect something of value.