My state starts its mandatory curbside recycling program next month. It’s not mandatory to actually recycle, but if you have a trash company come pick up your garbage, they are required to give you a special single stream recycling bin for paper, cans, glass, etc.
The trash hauler picks up the bin every two weeks. When we visit our family in Milton, Ontario, it’s the opposite. Regular trash collection is biweekly, but recycling and “green box” pick up is every Friday. The Milton website notes that over 60% of town waste has been diverted from the landfill.
There is some drama around the new law here in Delaware, and I am not unsympathetic to their objections. We are paying the tab to get this program started, and that’s a hardship for many. I tend to be kind of a conservative gal. I believe in self reliance and responsibility and making good choices. I believe we all have the power to change our own situations. I think all children should be required to wear boots with bootstraps.
I also know that part of what makes a society function is a collective common understanding. This understanding evolves over time and forms the basis of our justice system. Sometimes, we get it wrong. I’m not a big fan of frivolous laws, but not many people will argue that we all benefit a framework of laws that benefits us all. Take public schools. Not all of of us have, or want, kids, but all of us will need blood taken, legal papers drawn up, busses driven, taxes done, surgery performed and cars fixed, and we all benefit when the people who do those things can read.
From an infrastructure point of view, where would a town be without public sewers and a sewage treatment plant? (You should take a minute to read this article about Gurgaon, a city in India, that does function without these services. It’s mind blowing: In India, Dynamism Wrestles With Dysfunction)
As human beings, it is tempting to take the path of least resistance, which is why when we realized there was a problem with sewage flowing in the streets, we built flushing toilets instead of saying, “You really should choose to carry your slop bucket down to the sewage plant once a week instead of just tossing it out the window.”
It seems like you can’t sit down for chicken and dumplings on Sunday afternoon these days without someone bringing up the topic of debt. Personal debt, bad mortgages, or the national debt situation. The conversations all lead to the same conclusion- we need to fix the problem not just in the short term. We have a responsibility to live within our means and expect people to stick to their word and do their share.
My logic for supporting curbside recycling pulls from both of these ideas. Have you ever read The Jungle? It’s impossible to read Upton Sinclair’s muckracking classic in modern times without a maintaining a cringe with each turn of the page. Granted, it’s sensationalized, but consider the objections that the meat packing industry probably raised to Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. I see this as being a similar evolution of our sense of collective justice. People should be able to expect their meat to be processed properly, and they should also be able to expect that landfill space shouldn’t be wasted with items that are so easily recycled.
So where was that thought about visualization again? Oh here it is. Someone has posted this video on youtube entitled STATE LAW TRASHES MENDENHALL VILLAGE, which is, I think, supposed to get the viewer all worked up about how horrible the new trash cans make this neighborhood look. The poster offers no context, but I think based on the fact that I don’t see any regular trash cans out, that perhaps this neighborhood has collective dumpsters for the regular trash, but requires individual cans for recycling. I also note that parking obstructs the access for trash collection.
A major part of the fear and objection in any new law or public works project comes from not understanding. It comes from the lawmakers and agencies not understanding what the citizen experience will be. It comes from the citizens not understanding what their experience will be. It comes from some engineer standing in front of a room with an unintelligible black and white drawing, using her hands to try to explain something and the rest of the room seeing only red and hearing nothing but the angry voices in their heads.
How much more effective would it have been if:
1. Clear exhibits (both 2D and 3D) had been made showing the progress of landfills both with and without recycling programs. Made available on websites, youtube videos, etc.
2. Clear exhibits spelling out the process for which new landfills are created and highlighting parcels of land that would be suitable for future landfills. (Holy, NIMBY.)
3. Visualizations of neighborhoods on “pick up day” both to show citizens what things might look like, but also to provide training and troubleshooting for haulers. Perhaps the models would spur ideas about a neighborhood collection point in townhomes, etc.
4. Simple, spelled out dollarizations about how much it would cost us as taxpayers now, and over the course of the years, in a nonrecycling and recycling scenario.
This turned into a novel. More to come on the idea of visualization for both storytelling and training. In the meantime, this might get you thinking: The Exciting Life of a Street Sweeper from the Public Works Group blog