Listening to the lecture by Roel van Raak about waste management this week, I started to think about my own experiences of waste management. Growing up in a small town in northern Sweden, I was taught to sort my waste. In our house we hade a compost and our plastic, paper, cardboard, metal and glass waste were put in different containers at the local recycle plant every weekend. The most fun thing, as a kid, was throwing the glass bottles into the round containers and listening to the loud CRASH!
My parents sometimes brought me to the big recycle plant were electronics, chemicals, and heavier waste is sorted in an organized manner, free of charge. That plant also has a division for used clothing and furniture. The furniture is refurbished by a company helping unemployed and people unable to maintain a regular job, and eventually sold in the town center. Growing up, this was all part of my world and I didn’t reflect on it at all. Everyone recycles, right?
My view of recycling was challenged when I lived in the US, where it really takes more of an effort to recycle waste. In my city the garbage truck came every week, collecting regular garbage and a box where we were allowed to put mixed recyclables in a big mess, unsorted. The family I was living with didn’t have a system for sorting their waste, and I don’t blame them. The system was fuzzy and information was poor. In addition, the box where the recyclables were to be put was small and couldn’t hold the amount that a regular American family would produce in a week. I think this contributed to making them throw recyclables in the regular combustible garbage.
Moving to the Netherlands, I had another confirmation that I was lucky to grow up learning about recycling. The first day living in my house, I ran into the man responsible for maintenance. He showed me the garbage room, where everything is just thrown into one container. I asked why there was no recycling in the building and he said they used to have it, but “people didn’t respect it to the point where it was not working”. This really saddens me, since our recyclables now have to be carried around town to different areas for recycling. I miss the “waste cycle”-room in my old apartment complex where garbage could be sorted a few meters outside the door.
I think the key in succeeding to have a high percentage of recycling of waste in a city is simplicity. Property owners should make it so easy for people in their building to recycle that there is no question whether it should be done. Municipalities should give incentives to residents to recycle. There just shouldn’t be an alternative that’s more attractive than throwing that glass jar in a container and listening to the CRASH! as it becomes a part of a beautiful cycle.