If you attended the early conferences of the National Recycling Coalition, you’d have met many people in the “Live Simply So That Others Can Simply Live” movement. The keystones of the early volunteer-run recycling programs were conservation/reduction. The Environmental Protection Agency promoted the Reduce, Reuse and (lastly) Recycle hierarchy in their educational materials.
Then NRC changed. Today the major sponsors are corporations whose profit margins depend on Americans worshipping convenience and thoughtless over-consumption. Those corporations include major retailers, garbage haulers and equipment companies.
The conversations at NRC are about operations, collection methods, diversion — not less consumption or conservation. There’s lots of talk about what people won’t do rather than how to educate citizens so we feel enormous responsibility toward future generations. Incentives and contests to see who can collect the most recyclables replaced the original value system that inspired rethinking our over-consumptive lifestyle.
Major garbage hauling companies hijacked recycling, replacing clean collection programs with single stream, the method that dumps all recyclables into a single compartment truck. Obviously, contamination occurs, thus devaluing your recyclables. Giving control of your recyclables to a garbage hauler is like allowing a moving company to decide the destination of your personal belongings once they’ve been loaded in the van. It’s also comparable to allowing the moving company to damage (and devalue) your possessions in transport. Can you see the conflict of interest?
As haulers gained control of the growing volumes of recyclables, a few non-profits and a couple of paper companies fought to regain control of the recyclables by building their own single-stream sorting facilities. It was a reactionary move taking us further away from the (conservation) values we must embrace if we’re going to leave our kids with a habitable planet.
Now Fayetteville, with one of the cleanest collection programs in the nation, is talking about switching to single stream. As one who has a run a clean recycling program (on a shoestring budget) I don’t want to pay for faux or dirty recycling. I don’t want to pay consultants who waste city staff time talking about what people won’t do. I listened (briefly) to that baloney 25 years ago when helping design one of the best small-town recycling programs in the United States.
I want to pay people who inspire, educate and motivate us to give back to our community by getting engaged in authentic conservation efforts. Fayetteville has a wonderfully caring and talented population. With the right leadership, ongoing conservation education programs for all ages and segments of our community could be developed and implemented. Because I’ve watched politics get in the way of telling citizens what they really need to hear, educational programs about recycling and reducing consumption need to be independent of City Hall.