Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Go Green Idea: Reduce Trash, Increase Recycling

A friend of mine @GoGreenMorimoto and I were discussing the problem of recycling in America on twitter the other day. We debated a couple methods that the government could use to increase recycling. Obviously there are two ways to encourage a behavior, either rewards for good behavior or punishment for bad behavior and we discuss both methods to solve this particular problem.

Currently, there is a small reward/punishment in place, on a state by state basis, most commonly in the form of a bottle deposit. This means the state tacks on 5 cents to the cost of a plastic bottle, but allows you to return it and recoup your nickel. The idea is that people will want to get their own money back, lest they pay an additional 5 cents/bottle. This also encourages others to grab discarded bottles and recycle them to claim the 5 cents.

I think this method is a great step, and definitely a good model, however I believe it is not enough. 5 cents is just not enough money to convince people to go out and recycle. Instead, states should raise the bottle deposit limits to 25 cents, which would make the bottles much more valuable. Nobody can claim that it is too expensive, because they will get the money back as soon as they finish the bottle! This encourages people to recycle, and for those who just throw the bottle away, a quarter is enough motivation for someone poor to go through the trouble of obtaining these discarded bottles.

However, I do not think we should stop at plastic bottles. I think that cardboard/glass/metal food packaging is important and should be recycled as well. To do this, the FDA would have to standardize packaging sizes or offer a number of templates (which is hardly a hassle) and then states would force food producers to package in these containers to be able to sold. The deposit would be something less, say 10 cents/box. This is better than the 5 cents, and since many people buy lots of packaging, they should have to pay the deposit temporarily. If they decide that they do not want to recycle, they should have to pay a dear price. If it is only a few cents (like under the current system) then many people will simply just consider the deposit as part of the cost of the item! Biodegradable boxes of course would not be charged the deposit, because they will decompose, this is only for those items that need to be recycled through the traditional channels.

A final, more extreme step, would be to have a trash/recycling compliance inspector. This person's job would be to monitor trash and make sure citizens are complying with the recycling policies set in the place. Their wages would be paid through unreturned deposits on packaging and the fines they would surely impose on those not in compliance. Even if the state ends up having to supplement their salaries, it would be for a great cause. Go green folks!


  1. I want to create a temp job service where people get paid (mostly unemployed or homeless) to clean areas and bring back the waste to a compactor.

  2. henry jacob i love that idea. i agree that 25 cents would provide much more incentive, especially since a premium is already charged for recyclable goods (building supplies, green-gadgets, clothes, etc...). This could boost economy, set a new precedent for consumer purchase power, and most importantly, increase the flow and availability of recycled goods into society - thus increasing supply (driving price down) and demand with a newfound model of green-ness as a norm