Recycling in homes and workplaces has become common in the last 40 years in North America. The local program began 27 years ago this November.
Recycling requires people to change their habits about the waste they produce. Many early programs required significant sorting using more space in homes and workplaces.
Changing habits does not happen easily. There are two ways of making it happen: through education and making it convenient or through adopting policies with penalties for not making the change. I call this the carrot or the stick.
The ‘carrot’ provides information about the environmental benefits and saving money with landfill costs. A small percentage of very motivated people usually make the change very quickly. Providing curbside pickup and convenient collection depots increases participation significantly.
Getting the majority of people to change their habits takes a long time with the ‘carrot’ approach.
The stick approach involves consequences for not recycling.
The most common and least difficult to swallow is the ‘tags for bags’ program. It requires homes that have more than a set number of garbage bags (usually two) to buy a tag for any extra bags. Usually free pickup service is available so reducing garbage is very easily done.
This increases recycling rates significantly.
Some places have gone further requiring clear bags for garbage and recycling with fines if items are found in the wrong bag.
Many places are adding compostable materials to their waste pickup.
Some places are reducing garbage pickup to every other week as there isn’t much left after recyclables and compostable food scraps are picked up.
Local recycling rates have increased, but do we need a ‘stick’ to get the majority in the habit?