Dear Reader: your input needed on recycling!


We asked for readers to raise topics that they’ve been struggling with, and this week, the focus is on recycling, particularly on improving recycling programs in certain states.

Footprint reader Katie wrote:

>I’m in Pennsylvania and I want to read some discussion about ideas to fire people up about taking the time to recycle — and for companies and hotels and others to provide recycling bins.
I’m not for more rules (who is?), but GEEZ, shouldn’t each of us feel compelled to recycle AT LEAST the easy stuff like bottles and cans? And shouldn’t every Holiday Inn or Best Western or Motel 8 feel compelled to have a blue recycle bin in each room? If California and Canada can do it, why can’t Pennsylvania and New York??

Here are some basic resources… we’d love to hear from Footprint readers! reveals a plan of action for “How to Start an Office Recycling Program”

Earth 911 offers tips on “How to Start a Recycling Program”

EPA factsheet on improving recycling nationwide

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  1. Recycle All Year

    I think it starts with a mindset to learn, advocate for change and adopting consistent recycling behavior.
    I’m glad to see the questions raised by this site on how to get more people and organizations involved. Certainly this is a role that waste removal providers can assist with in your area if possible. In the end, I’m sure it comes down to money to advocate a change.
    For me, I made a conscious effort to learn more about what other materials I could be recycling instead of just throwing them away. In the end I continually learn what other materials can be reused, accepted by my waste collector or recycling center and making mental note to adopt my behavior when that material comes up in my disposal process – milk cartons, soup cartons, paper towel rolls, etc.
    Hopefully in time as recycling gets more convenient (ie. single stream recycling) and with some companies offering loyalty rewards for recycling (ie. RecycleBank or Rewards for Recycling) it may make the process of awareness in your area more feasible and increase recycling.

  2. Lori

    I live in Georgia which just a few years ago laughed at me when I offered to recycle everyone old magazines and phone books at the county recycling station. Now almost everyone has trash pickup with a matching roll out recycling bin outside. We have come a VERY long way in such a short time.
    I have blue recycle bins upstairs as well as the main floor in the kitchen and office. Taking out the recycling is my 5 year olds job and the trash is handled by my 11 year old. They dont know life without recycling.

  3. Cranky Angelino

    Municipal services/Refuse collection should take care of waste segregation.
    Regular folks simply do a poor and incomplete job of it. I’m not lazy, and am happy to do it, but the system is a broken, complicated, mess as it is now.
    Secondary waste segregation is already done by the servicer. The economies of simplifying pickup and gains in recycled content would likely far offset the extra work required by the sorting process.
    The biggest benefit of having all our households recycle is the consciousness it brings to environmental issues.

  4. Chris Wise

    My new mantra is ‘recycling is trash’ because you can choose to reduce the amount of stuff you buy that comes in packaging that (sometimes) can be recycled. I felt bad about recycling all my glass beer bottles so decided to only buy beer from a local brewer who uses reusable growlers. I look at the amount and recyclability of comparable produces to decide which one to buy.
    Recycling could be made easier and more efficient if the recycling of products & packaging was easier for consumers. If various types of plastic could be color coded they could be easily separated. Products and packaging could be made so its easy to separate into various types of recyclables.

  5. Lauryn

    Chris, I completely agree about reducing first, but belittling recycling is an awful mindset. Recycling, yes, should be undertaken after substantial steps have been taken to reduce and resuse – the slogan does, after all, go “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” However, for those who are as of yet unable or unwilling to take as many steps as you have towards reducing and reusing, recycling is extremely important.
    You can try writing to hotels and businesses to express your disappointment about the lack of recycling options, and hopefully eventually they’ll start to change your ways. Also write to your legislatures about starting a bottle deposit if your state doesn’t have one. These have been very successful in greatly increasing the numbers of bottles and cans that are recycled.

  6. Sally

    I was in Mexico for vacation and at least in Mexico City, the airport, shopping malls and other public places had a two-bin system: 1 for organic waste and 1 for inorganic waste. As I stayed with a family in Mexico City, I also got to see the residential trash pickup system. The garbage truck pulled up to a residential intersection, with one of the crew ringing a hand-bell. After the truck parked at the intersection, the guy with the bell walked around the adjoining blocks, ringing his bell. The residents then brought their trash cans (again, separated by organic and inorganic trash) to the truck, and the truck’s crew set up a mini recycling center on the spot, sorting out glass, plastic bottles, cardboard, etc. into separate containers that where loaded onto the truck’s roof when the truck was ready to move on to it’s next stop. If Mexico can recycle, I certainly would expect the USA to do so.
    On the hotel recycling question – it may be that the hotels do sort the trash and recycle, but that it occurs behind the scene. It probably depends a lot on whether the motel/hotel is owned/operated by the hotel chain or if it’s a locally operated franchise, and whether it’s an urban hotel or a small-town motel with more limited recycling resources. Each chain’s recycling policies might be posted on their website.

  7. Ric

    I’m happy to add that in Seattle, we’ve moved beyond the simple decision of “is this recyclable, or do I throw it in the trash?” It is now quite common to have compost bins in many public locations. Many fast food restaurants and food courts have compost bins beside the recycling and landfill (they do appropriately label them to remind you) options. Even my church and the doctors lounge have us separate out our waste. Once one gets in the routine, it really isn’t a big deal.

  8. Lisa H.-S.

    Recycling is great. Stopping waste at the source is even better. Organizations like provide you with a free account where you can easily tell businesses, non-profits and phone book distributors NOT to send you stuff you didn’t want in the first place. Remember REDUCE, reuse, THEN recycle!

  9. Ronald L Perrigo Jr

    I remembered some time ago visiting relatives in the mid west. I was dismayed, when my brother in law wheeled out 13 trash cans for pick up the next day. There were no recycling services, and they live in a small town in the north east section of Kansas. I would like to see attention brought to bear on the extremely underserved communities, small ones that have no recycling services.

  10. jamfhall1

    My poor kids. They were raised in California where recycling is MANDATORY and in our town, we pay $25.00 a month so the garbage man can pick up all 3 of our dumpster totes (yard, cardboard/paper, and waste) once a week and it’s a $55.00 fine if your dumpster tote contents are mixed up. They grew up picking up cans & bottles in every parking lot and road in town because currently aluminum cans is $2.00lb and plastic #1 is $1.00lb. We’ve made between $65.00 and $80.00 a month and we don’t even buy soda or bottled water. We just pick up. Then I spent a year in Montana. I did my same routine of p/u recyling but it turned out, not only was the nearest recyling center 80 miles away, but aluminum cans were only 40 cents a pound, you had to DONATE your plastic, and glass was not accepted. I relayed this to my kids and the oldest one said, “Is recycling against the law in Montana?” A funny & ridiculous question but can you understand his line of reasoning? And our local garbage in Mt? Not some unionized fleet but some guy who bought a garbage truck and some property to dump the garbage onto. Seriously. We drove by it and you would not believe all the good wood and other stuff piled up. That wood could’ve broken up for firewood. I know because we used to do that in CA for my mom and an elderly friend since wood is $300.00 a cord. Amazing. Same country. Two different worlds.