5 Reasons Why People DON’T Recycle

From on January 14, 2009 in Green Remodeling

Green WednesdayMost people I know recycle but at the same time, throughout my travels, I have met and known several who don’t. Propriety and a respect for their home and lifestyle held back any ethical and environmental reproaches that may have come to mind. Nonetheless, the question that surfaced in my mind was always, why? Why not recycle? It is widely accepted as the “right thing to do” now and is lauded as an everyday heroic chore from Sesame Street to Wall Street.

Throughout those aforementioned travels I have had the chance to discuss that elusive question with recyclers and non-recyclers alike. From that I have deduced five reasons why people don’t recycle. The key to universal recycling may be to listen to and address the concerns of those that don’t recycle more than continually preaching the widely understood reasons why we should recycle.

  1. Inconvenience

    The number one reason that people don’t recycle. In many regions of the country, especially rural regions, curbside recycling programs do not exist. But garbage pickup does. Therefore, recycling takes extra effort and a drive to the nearest transfer station while throwing it out only requires a walk to the curb.

  2. Lack of Space.

    recycling pile

    In close relation to inconvenience is a lack of space. Many people do not want open containers of “garbage” lying around the kitchen. There is no pantry, closet, or other out-of-the-way place to put recycle bins, especially when separate bins for glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper are needed.

  3. No Deposit, No Return.

    I spent several years in Michigan where its 10-cent bottle and can deposit leads the nation. I tell you that rarely did a beer bottle make it to the landfill. Even if people threw them out, someone would come along and take them out of the trash. Conversely I’ve found that beverage drinkers in states without deposits are far more likely to toss everything in the trash. This is not just homeowners either. In Dallas, TX I watched large trash can after trash can fill up with bottles at a local bar…Imagine the waste from just one establishment!

  4. Misinformation.

    Many people just don’t see how recycling—or lack thereof—affects their daily lives. Perhaps they don’t see the landfill piling up in their town because the garbage is shipped elsewhere. Perhaps they don’t know the myriad of products that are made or remade from recycled materials. Perhaps they haven’t noticed the price of certain products rising because of depleted resources that could be supplemented with more recycled materials. It has nothing to do with intelligence or a lack of compassion. The fact is that many people still don’t see the point and have been misinformed about the severity of rising trash heaps and a depleted environment.

  5. Too Confusing.

    Adding to the inconvenience of recycling is the confusing nature of many recycling programs. For instance, there are something like 13 different kinds of plastics, and in some areas you can only recycle plastic bottles in which the necks are smaller in width than the body. Add to that the inconvenience of separating materials and the daily grind of work and family. Who has time to figure it all out?

These are the five main reasons that I have seen or heard from people across the country. They are fairly common. What to do about it? Many avid recyclers or environmentalists tend to get a tad preachy about recycling, which might turn people off.

First of all, lead by example. When you walk in the park carry an empty grocery back and throw trash in it as you walk. Take the recyclables home or drop them in the appropriate bin. Eventually people will see this and follow your lead. I’ve seen it happen and it just expands from there. Indeed it is this grassroots activism that put recycling on the map in the first place. Just have patience.

Secondly, get involved with your local city council or sanitation service. Ask about adopting a recycling program or making the existing one more convenient. Volunteer at the local recycling center if possible. Educate yourself and others but most of all…recycle.

Photo Credit: allybeag via Flickr CC