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Will the new protocol increase recycling?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | MARCH 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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YES

Enough with the excuses, Iowa City residents. We get it by now. You hate the environment.

I’m sorry for that last paragraph, Iowa City residents. I jumped to conclusions. I made a hypothesis and skipped the experiment. I judged an anthology by its pretentious cover. Allow me to remedy my premature reckonings. How about …

If you continually opt not to recycle, chances are you fall under the broad categorization of “apathetic” — you think the hassle of organizing trash isn’t worth its immeasurable reward; you don’t have enough kitchen space to designate an entire trash bin to empty Chex cereal boxes and exhausted O magazines; or, simply, life continually butts its way into your prospective recycling routine, week after week. That’s why Iowa City is implementing changes to its recycling program to help combat your pathetic excuse of an excuse.

As it is right now (or until April 4), one separates fibers from plastics from cans and places each collection of homogenized waste into separate trash bags and those all into one recycling bin, presumably on top of your non-recyclabes. That’s at least four different trash bags, and that’s if you don’t care to capitalize on the vast rewards of can and bottle returns.

Under the new system, recyclable items can be placed directly into plastic bins, available for $12 from the city or $4 from Wal-Mart. If you have two recycling bins, it’s a very simple system.

Plastics and cans go into one, fiber and paper in the other — no trash bags needed. Great, right?

Have you seen the price of trash bags? It’s as if they’re made from oil or something.

Beware, though. If you only have one trash bin, the city’s stipulations fall from refreshingly flexible to obsessive-compulsive. You have to place magazines on one side of the bin, newspapers on the other, plastics and cans on top, and cardboard outside and underneath. If that doesn’t ignite your environmental furor, I don’t know what will.

Overall, the changes make sense. If you have two bins in your home, you don’t have to bag them up before you set them in front of your curb, dipping into your $20/month trash-bag budget and partially degrading the positive impact you have on the environment by placing your recyclables in a container that takes thousands of years to decompose. In order for this system to work as well as the city hopes, it should supply bins for the residents. But even so, the new system’s convenience will grow on Iowa City residents, and our landfills will benefit in the long term.

But if it doesn’t, we will all know the reason you’re not recycling, once and for all.

— Chris Steinke

NO

I think the saying goes: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

In this case, the horse would be equivalent to lazy Iowa City residents and the water would be a recycling bin, but still, you get the picture.

As much as I would love to believe that the new recycling system, known as a “dual-stream” system, would encourage those to recycle more, I’m just not that gullible.

That’s not to say I don’t think it’s a good idea; I’m always pro-recycling. But I know how human beings work, and I speculate that the following three scenarios will happen if enacted.

One: Huge recycling nerds will eat this new plan up, because it makes their job easier and reduces the time spent separating their recyclables. For those already religiously recycling, yes, by all means, this will significantly simplify the process and encourage them to do more than ever before.

Two: Those who occasionally recycle, especially when it includes a 5-cent reward, may take advantage of it — particularly when it’s right in front of them. Yes, I see this group benefiting the most, because it reduces the amount of work they have to do, making it seem like a more appealing option than before.

Three: The group that sporadically recycles, if ever, regardless of whether the recycling bin and garbage bin are side-by-side or 20 feet away from one another. To them, it makes no difference, because they just don’t care enough to do it.

This is the group that ultimately makes me doubt that this new plan will see significant results. It’s just like the saying goes. People will only do what they have a mind to do. If they didn’t care about recycling before, then they certainly won’t now — no matter how easy the city makes it.

It may seem sad, but it’s reality. Human beings are stubborn. They’re going to do what they want. If recycling isn’t on the top of their lists to care about, then it won’t matter if recyclables are separated into one, two, or three bins; they aren’t going to do it unless they want to.

— Taylor Casey


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