Decades of Public Messages about Recycling in the US Have Crowded Out More Sustainable Ways to Manage Waste

Yves here. Those who remember Jerri-Lynn Scofield’s work on the war on plastic and fast fashion may recall her discussing how some of the countries she visited often, such as Turkiye and India, did vastly less in the way of packaging of goods, and that it was also typical for consumers to bring their own carry bags and even collapsable cups for buying drinks. I cringe particularly when I buy electronic products which seem to be housed in big thick plastic shells. And then it’s frustrating for packaging that does lend itself to recycling, like aluminum cans, when the locals seem to have given up on it.

By Michaela Barnett, Founder, KnoxFill, University of Virginia; Leidy Klotz, Associate Professor of Engineering and Co-Director, Convergent Behavioral Science Initiative, University of Virginia; Patrick I. Hancock, Postdoctoral fellow, University of Virginia, and Shahzeen Attari, Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University. Originally published at The Conversation

You’ve just finished a cup of coffee at your favorite cafe. Now you’re facing a trash bin, a recycling bin and a compost bin. What’s the most planet-friendly thing to do with your cup?

Many of us would opt for the recycling bin – but that’s often the wrong choice. In order to hold liquids, most paper coffee cups are made with a thin plastic lining, which makes separating these materials and recycling them difficult.

In fact, the most sustainable option isn’t available at the trash bin. It happens earlier, before you’re handed a disposable cup in the first place.

In our research on waste behavior, sustainability, engineering design and decision making, we examine what U.S. residents understand about the efficacy of different waste management strategies and which of those strategies they prefer. In two nationwide surveys in the U.S. that we conducted in October 2019 and March 2022, we found that people overlook waste reduction and reuse in favor of recycling. We call this tendency recycling bias and reduction neglect.

Our results show that a decadeslong effort to educate the U.S. public about recycling has succeeded in some ways but failed in others. These efforts have made recycling an option that consumers see as important – but to the detriment of more sustainable options. And it has not made people more effective recyclers.

Recycling rules vary widely across the U.S., leaving consumers to figure out what to do.

A Global Waste Crisis

Experts and advocates widely agree that humans are generating waste worldwide at levels that are unmanageable and unsustainable. Microplastics are polluting the Earth’s most remote regions and amassing in the bodies of humans and animals.

Producing and disposing of goods is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and a public health threat, especially for vulnerable communities that receive large quantities of waste. New research suggests that even when plastic does get recycled, it produces staggering amounts of microplastic pollution.

Given the scope and urgency of this problem, in June 2023 the United Nations convened talks with government representatives from around the globe to begin drafting a legally binding pact aimed at stemming harmful plastic waste. Meanwhile, many U.S. cities and states are banning single-use plastic products or restricting their use.

On March 30, 2023, the UN declared the first International Day of Zero Waste to raise awareness of the importance of zero waste and responsible consumption and production.

Upstream and Downstream Solutions

Experts have long recommended tackling the waste problem by prioritizing source reduction strategies that prevent the creation of waste in the first place, rather than seeking to manage and mitigate its impact later. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other prominent environmental organizations like the U.N. Environment Programme use a framework called the waste management hierarchy that ranks strategies from most to least environmentally preferred.

The U.S. EPA’s current waste management hierarchy (left, with parenthetical explanations by Michaela Barnett, et al.), and a visual depiction of the three R’s framework (right). Michaela Barnett, et al., CC BY-ND

The familiar waste management hierarchy urges people to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” in that order. Creating items that can be recycled is better from a sustainability perspective than burning them in an incinerator or burying them in a landfill, but it still consumes energy and resources. In contrast, reducing waste generation conserves natural resources and avoids other negative environmental impacts throughout a product’s life.

R’s Out of Place

In our surveys, participants completed a series of questions and tasks that elicited their views of different waste strategies. In response to open-ended questions about the most effective way to reduce landfill waste or solve environmental issues associated with waste, participants overwhelmingly cited recycling and other downstream strategies.

We also asked people to rank the four strategies of the Environmental Protection Agency’s waste management hierarchy from most to least environmentally preferred. In that order, they include source reduction and reuse; recycling and composting; energy recovery, such as burning trash to generate energy; and treatment and disposal, typically in a landfill. More than three out of four participants (78%) ordered the strategies incorrectly.

When they were asked to rank the reduce/reuse/recycle options in the same way, participants fared somewhat better, but nearly half (46%) still misordered the popular phrase.

Finally, we asked participants to choose between just two options – waste prevention and recycling. This time, over 80% of participants understood that preventing waste was much better than recycling.

Recycling Badly

While our participants defaulted to recycling as a waste management strategy, they did not execute it very well.

This isn’t surprising, since the current U.S. recycling system puts the onus on consumers to separate recyclable materials and keep contaminants out of the bin. There is a lot of variation in what can be recycled from community to community, and this standard can change frequently as new products are introduced and markets for recycled materials shift.

Our second study asked participants to sort common consumer goods into virtual recycling, compost and trash bins and then say how confident they were in their choices. Many people placed common recycling contaminants, including plastic bags (58%), disposable coffee cups (46%) and light bulbs (26%), erroneously – and often confidently – in the virtual recycling bins. For a few materials, such as cardboard and aluminum foil, the correct answer can vary depending on the capacities of local waste management systems.

This is known as wishcycling – placing nonrecyclable items in the recycling stream in the hope or belief that they will be recycled. Wishcycling creates additional costs and problems for recyclers, who have to sort the materials, and sometimes results in otherwise recyclable materials being landfilled or incinerated instead.

Although our participants were strongly biased toward recycling, they weren’t confident that it would work. Participants in our first survey were asked to estimate what fraction of plastic has been recycled since plastic production began. According to a widely cited estimate, the answer is just 9%. Our respondents thought that 25% of plastic had been recycled – more than expert estimates but still a low amount. And they correctly reasoned that a majority of it has ended up in landfills and the environment.

Empowering Consumers To Cut Waste

Post-consumer waste is the result of a long supply chain with environmental impacts at every stage. However, U.S. policy and corporate discourse focuses on consumers as the main source of waste, as implied by the term “post-consumer waste.”

Other approaches put more responsibility on producers by requiring them to take back their products for disposal, cover recycling costs and design and produce goods that are easy to recycle effectively. These approaches are used in some sectors in the U.S., including lead-acid car batteries and consumer electronics, but they are largely voluntary or mandated at the state and local level.

When we asked participants in our second study where change could have the most impact and where they felt they could have the most impact as individuals, they correctly focused on upstream interventions. But they felt they could only affect the system through what they chose to purchase and how they subsequently disposed of it – in other words, acting as consumers, not as citizens.

As waste-related pollution accumulates worldwide, corporations continue to shame and blame consumers rather than reducing the amount of disposable products they create. In our view, recycling is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for overproducing and consuming goods, and it is time that the U.S. stopped treating it as such.

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  1. Another Scott

    The other aspect of waste is how we purchase goods. I walk to the subway every day, which means a few times a week, I pass houses that have the trash and recycling outside. I’ve noticed a few things about recycling. The good news is that people seem far more likely to recycle cereal boxes and similar paperboard product packaging than we I was growing up. The bad news, which far outweighs the good news, is the proliferation of packaging from online purchasing. At some houses, the Amazon boxes take up most of the trash/recycling.

    Municipalities in Massachusetts don’t seem to care about all of this additional waste. If anything, they are encouraging it by adding taxes, sorry fees, for the use of bag, especially plastic bags. But the huge amounts of packages, not to mention the likely plastic bubbles inside, dwarfs that of what people get from the local grocery or department store. Does anyone think that Amazon will encourage people to buy less stuff?

  2. PlutoniumKun

    One of the big tragedies in the wests waste policy is that it was on the right road in the 1990’s, but the huge growth in demand for relatively low grade materials in China completely shifted the economics of recycling. Up to the mid 1990’s or so the industry was focused in creating the ‘cleanest’ post consumer material possible. Around 1990 as part of research I was doing in the UK I visited a number of sorting centres and it was often viable to employ people to sort materials by hand to increase the value of outputs. But this was undermined by what seemed like an endless demand in China for lower grade material, so a strong shift occurred in the late 1990’s to generic green bins and mechanical separation. So the industry was content just to have a single ‘recycle’ stream with often quite crude mechanical separation and essentially trained consumers into being lazy about separation. When China started insisting on higher quality inputs this resulted in a crisis which pretty much undermined the entire industry.

    In many ways we are in a worse situation now than a quarter of a century ago as in most countries (there are exceptions in Europe), reducing waste and increasing recycling rates would require both an enormous capital input and going through the process of retraining the public in good practice (ultimately, effective waste reduction and recycling always starts with the consumer, whether its an individual or organisation).

    1. Steve H.

      I have to challenge the consumer orientation, and considering them lazy. At root is the tax on time. If a consumer has an object to obtain, and it’s wrapped in hardshell plastic, they have a choice to seek an alternative with less packaging. But that costs time as a primary resource.

      There is no way at the consumer level to know the downstream outcomes. I am biased toward bitterness with this, having earned a Master in Enviromental Science degree from one of the top public affairs schools in the US in the early ’90’s. Policy and law were touted as the road that led to decreased pollution, but not once, never ever, was the outsourcing of manufacturing via free-trade agreements brought up as a factor. In retrospect I view it as a indoctrination program for effective DC careerism. That we sent the fires from the Cuyahoga to the Yellow River was not part of the discussion at the policy level, leading to decisions based on ignorance. How could consumers, who are whom’d by upstream decisions, be held more accountable?

      There is a deeper discussion available about the nature of waste. Odum said, ‘Self-organization selects network connections that feed back transformed energy to increase inflow of resources or to use them more efficiently’, leading to ‘the selective persistence of ecosystem designs that capture a previously untapped energy source.’ Efficiency is secondary. I’m seeing the shift in myself, having recently become non-impoverished, and getting gone the piles of busted-ass consumables I’ve been keeping in case I have need again, and might be able to repair, before going and dropping cash which is tighter than time. My mother was a hoarder, and clutter costs both search-time and sanity. Wealth can afford to waste without thought. Belushi never washed his silk underwear, he just threw them away and wore new [personal communication].

    2. AG

      this is no news but since it is everyday occurence – German bottle refund system is such an issue.

      While bottle-collectors in the 1980s seemed to be a thing in Brazilian Favelas they are now a line of “work” for poor natives and poor immigrants in German cities.

      The minutes of this are interesting. Usually after 5 pm you will have to stand in a long line, patience low, emotions flying high.


      Because huge supermarkets which sell thousands of bottles every day to thousands of customers every day who bring back thousands of bottles every day happen to service 2 or 3 refund-machines.

      I never figured out the economic/political background for this “bottle-neck” policy in the recycling process.

      But considering that fluids are the most essential for human beings this procedure is excruciating (think families with kids and no time)


      With financial crisis a permanent status people are increasingly less willing to let bottles go.
      Each bottle worth between 9 cents (beer) and 25 cents (water and juice).

      Of course: Why buy water at all? Major topic…

      As to the bottle-collectors: They used to bring back over 100 bottles.

      Eventually supermarkets introduced a limit of 20 bottles.

      But who is gonna check that? Do I want it checked? Do I really want a security guy looking OVER THIS???

      So this branches out….

      Another issue is the package industry. Which I dont know much about.
      But it´s surely one of the most profitable branches out there.

      The value of package is higher than what is in it (think water, and everything containing big parts of grease)

      Of course what it gets down to – who has a short-term interest in solving this problem in a meaningful way? The consumer, yes. The generation who will follow us? Yes.

      Who doesn´t ?

  3. Lexx

    Today is garbage+recycle day. The large recycle bin is full of plastic (clean) and cardboard. Remove the cardboard and there’s very little plastic in comparison. If plastic was all that went into that bin, we could put the bin out on the curb once a month… but because of ‘shame and blame’ we’re still sweating putting out even that much waste.

    We feel like we’re paddling faster trying to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, while the responsibility for consumers of trying to ‘do the right thing’ is growing, not by our lack of ethics but lack of friendly options. If anything, the fossil fuel industry seems to be opening the spigot to plastic. I don’t see less plastic on store shelves, I see more. More products, all of them in plastic. Empty shelves during a pandemic, truth be told, felt like a bit of relief. Not ten options but just two? Great! Both were plastic but even that sucked up less time spent deciding, discriminating, reading labels and choosing, and trying to feel good about that choice.

    … I’ve become more interested in hearing the conversations the extras are having about their survival somewhere just beyond the range of the microphones, and less the story of the leading actors. Their contributions just don’t seem plausible anymore.

  4. orlbucfan

    My small household has been recycling and composting for decades. I have a list of composted items on my frig. We live in a small (by US standards) house, and I have never fell for the buy, buy, buy mantra. I know the big three recycles: aluminum, glass and cardboard. I wish the idiotic producers would go back to packing and shipping in these materials again. I’m a Floridian, and hearing the heartbreaking news that the water temps around the Keys is now 101….well, what can I say?

    1. JohnnySacks

      Qualifying what goes in our compost doesn’t happen. The trash bin sits there all week and starts stinking otherwise. (But our garden started looking like a graveyard so we do exclude bones).

      I do put metal in the recycling bins, especially steel. Not sure if that’s OK, but my ‘wish-cycling’ mind thinks steel is easily separated magnetically.

  5. LawnDart

    The only way recycling will work is if packaging products are subject to some government regulation and recycling itself was better subsidized.

    The county recycling center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri was making a ton of money off of cardboard during and post-pandemic lockdown due to the “Amazon-effect,” but I believe that this operation has now been mostly privatized, leaving the county the job, costs, of disposing of junk/trash.

    I saw first-hand Loop Paper in Chicago get inspected by the Chinese who were rejecting bales of raw/recycled paper left-and-right for contamination (plastics, usually shopping bags mixed in with the paper).

    “Contamination,” or incorrect grades/types of material, can turn a profitable load worthless, but plastics themselves are a pure nightmare: there is NO market for recyclable consumer-grade plastics– you’ve got to pay to dispose of them. However, there are markets for plastic scrap, cut-outs and leftovers from manufacturing that are virgin and clean– these can be sold.

    Much plastic is simply reformulated toxic waste: how and who pays for its disposal are the questions– the producers or users?

    1. Lexx

      Part of the problem may be one-bin curbside recycling? You could eat off our recycled but that’s not the condition by the time it hits the center.

      When cardboard exceeds our bin, Husband bundles the cardboard and takes it to the recycling center himself. It seems likely that those who care enough to break it down themselves are also making sure its clean and in the right places at the center and therefore less likely to contaminate the lot… to not be the one bad apple.

      The county pays workers at ‘Hazard House’ (county landfill) to look at the containers and contents of every item that enters. .. like they don’t trust us to follow ‘guidelines’ and make those fine distinctions on our own.
      At the other end of room are those looking to take that disposed paint home with them… for reasons… I’m thinking maybe ‘starving artists’ short of supplies.

    2. Felix47

      With the growth of shoplifting we are seeing much bulkier plastic packaging. I guess it is thought the bigger the package the less likely to be taken.

      1. JBird4049

        Yes, thin packaging is easier to cut for a shoplifter who removes the product from the package before leaving the store. That this means everyone else has more difficulties is not considered.

  6. upstater

    Our county went to single stream recycling years ago. They claim 50% recycling tonnage, but that is misleading. The pick up practice changed to single man trucks and yuuuuuge plastic trash and recycle cans that are picked up and over the truck and dumped in the top (previously a person dumped the trash can and recycling bin in the side). Plenty of trash blows off when dumping on windy days; it is now by far the largest source of roadside litter.

    Needless to say virtually all glass gets broken when dumped from 12 feet high into the truck… but this doesn’t matter since all glass is mixed, then separated and crushed any layered in the landfill along with incinerator ash. A few deposit bottle places take wine bottles for actual recycling, but how many people bother?

    Actual plastic recycling is limited to PETE & HDPE bottles only and #2 dairy containers. Every other plastic is incinerated. But cans are full of every type of plastic.

    Paper and cardboard are the only bright spots, since there is a local cardboard mill that take virtually all of it. Unfortunately the price paid has collapsed, last I heard.

    But the fact of the matter is even if we are doing our best with the 3Rs, we ultimately have no choice WRT government policies that allow and even encourage waste. Few states have bottle laws, deposits here remain at 5 cents for almost 40 years, many containers are exempt. Blister packs get more obnoxious. Food containers of all sorts long ago went to all plastic. And tax breaks are handed out to build crackers to consume ethane from franking that create literally billions of pounds of new plastics from now until forever.

    Like all things climate and environmental, it is tragedy of the commons where corporations dump their external costs on the public. Politicians and regulators have been bought and paid for, while the earth burns. This is what they want; it makes money for them.

  7. Amfortas the hippie

    my county built a recycling center 20 or more years ago…and then spent the intervening decades teaching and cajoling and shaming the population of small-c conservatives about how to do it…with great success, i might add, given that these folks resist change like a donkey.
    but then the trade war with china happened…as well as the chinese deciding to do things differently(as yall said above)…and the market for the county’s carefully sorted recyclables dried up.
    when pandemic hit, and toilet paper became scarce, i got together with the grocery manager and the newspaper editor, and figured out how to take newsprint and make a passable TP…problem was sourcing lye, it turns out(used to make meth,lol…so its regulated like a womb).
    by the time i’d built a rudimentary ash hopper to make wood lye, the grocer had somehow started getting mexican TP.
    it can be done on a local level…but only with local support.
    a feature of local support is sorting, as yall indicate.
    also at the beginning of pandemic, i built the bar so my eldest and his cohort would have a place to be…open air, etc…
    and i reasoned that with the collapse of global supply chains, things like aluminum and glass might actually be worth something again.
    so 3 kinds of trashcan at the bar…and 2 “dumpsters”, made of cast off wooden pallets…one for Al, one for glass…and the plastic and other trash went to dump.
    i missed the time of high dollar aluminum…its 70 miles one way to the nearest recycler that will pay you.
    so there that pile sits…and i’ve been taking an hour a day to load it onto a trailer…but the kids apparently could not distinguish between Al, glass, and trash,lol…its all mixed in…and this despite constant reminders from me….and even a big garish sign on the aluminum trashcan.

    recycler in brownwood stated he preferred beercans uncrushed and unbagged.
    but the trip is no longer worth it.
    county recycler(who doesnt pay) wants them bagged…so its likely all goin to the dump anyway.
    so a lot of wasted and unpaid labor…i detect an incentive problem.

    i do use almost all of the cardboard we get for one thing or another…bigger boxes and such are weed suppression/lasagne gardening.
    smaller boxes and such end up on the floors of the fattening cages where the excess roosters are.
    rest of the paper trash gets burned, mostly.

  8. jefemt

    The demand side is the golden key: demand less, consume less, vote with pocket book.
    Problem is, of the 8 billions, a paltry few choose this path.
    It’s vexing to behold, even with an attempt to view without judgment, with compassionate equanimity.

    We’re phuc’d. The H2O temps off the Florida coast have me totally beyond-blue disheartened.

      1. jefemt

        No rights reserved.

        It’s pidgin Vietnamese, holdover from yet another American foray toward Oblivion…

  9. Lex

    Privatize the profits and socialize the losses. This is similar. The responsibility to recycle seems to fall wholly on the end user to “solve” an issue that they can’t solve.

    The only way to reduce waste is to design systems where the waste output is an input for something else. Fumbling around after the fact for uses of mountains of waste will almost never work. But that’s unlikely to happen given that making disposable plastic is a big business. It looked like it all worked until China decided that just taking American trash wasn’t in its best interests. Now that we have to actually manage the waste it doesn’t work.

    1. mehitabel

      This is one of the best articles I’ve come across on modern waste:

      This was all intentional – foist the costs of disposal onto municipalities and the public. The author argues that much of what is labeled municipal waste should really be considered industrial waste. The text of a 1963 speech by Modern Packaging Magazine editor Lloyd Stouffer (link in story) bares it all in living color.

  10. The Rev Kev

    Maybe the way to go is to charge people by the weight in their garbage bin. The trucks doing the pick up would weigh it as it is lifted. Suddenly, if people are being charged by the amount of waste in their bins, not only would most people try to remove their wastage but you can bet that there would be popular support to remove excess packaging by law. Nobody would be happy about being personally charged for Jeff Bezos’s excess packaging.

      1. jefemt

        Lookit the subsidies he gets from ‘us’ , the usps, and the cooperative agreements with fedex, and ups.

        Buy less.
        Boycott amazon, whole paycheck, etc. Not much we can do regarding amazon web services… who knows what data comes and goes from where.

        Now, we ALL should be rooting for he and Elon to do a JV to space, with the proviso they are on the first ship out… and that they bring Bill Gates so he can opine and get his mitts on a piece of that action.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      im the trashman(sanitation engineer) for us.
      the landfill has a big drive on scale…weighed coming and going, and charged accordingly.
      for a big load, abt $30-40.
      boys do water bottles by the case(ive given up for now trying to amend this)..and i end up with a bit of water in each cast off bottle…and water is heavy.
      so i go to the trouble to pop or otherwise empty them, because it matters with the cost.
      and since we store our trash between dump runs, anything a raccoon or possum might like goes into a chicken bucket in the kitchen…diverted from the trash.
      so the wild critters dont get into our big pallet dumpster and strow it all around.
      most of what goes to the dump from us is plastic.
      but most of the weight is glass…and mom’s trash, which is totally unsorted and also rather nasty compared to the boys and i.

      1. dandyandy

        Genuine question: do you guys throw glass into waste fill or is this a recycling run.

        Am asking with a professional interest in recycling (I am a consultant structural engineer and I make it my business to recycle structures).

        Do you have ways of indentifying or sorting plastics and if so what proportion of that is PET. Which can be turned into rPET at near 100% efficiency.

        Very interested to learn from a hands-on operator. Cheers.

        1. Amfortas the Hippie

          we kept all glass during 2020, as a hedge against system collapse.
          now, it goes to dump.(aside from all the little jars i habitually save…and use,lol…for seed saving, screws, etc)
          as for plastics, recycling place doesnt want them…so also to dump.
          my part for the planet has been intercepting all manner of useful things before they enter the dump.
          much of our infrastructure is sourced that way.

          1. dandyandy

            Thanks for the update. FWIW, I cannot give up on thinking there is decent value in recycled glass and rPET. It’s a shame to just chuck them away, but obviously there is still abundance of parent materials to render this specific recycling unprofitable. Let’s pencil in another chat in 5 years! Cheers.

    2. dandyandy

      Funny you should say that Rev, ‘cos I’ve been thinking lately what could my council (SW London, U.K.), come up with next to plug holes in their horrific budgetary holes. All the waste and recycling bins we paid for through our council tax are falling apart within a year of receiving them. Replacement only available from the council approved vendor, at a premium price of course.

      And then I thought well the next step surely must be that they don’t take the rubbish away at all, under a pretext of bins being filled with wrong stuff. And then if one repents and re-fills the bin but only with the approved mater, then why not making the wrongdoers go through a 40-step phone-tree approval process. As a warning to the others.

    3. square coats

      My friend lived in a city a couple years ago where you have to put your trash out in the designated city trash bags and you can only buy those bags from the city at their singly determined price. No bins or anything. Not quite as direct a cost disincentive as charging by weight but considering all the problems the average consumer faces in responsibly dealing with waste in a hellish production system, it seems like this sort of thing is more likely to be along the lines of a regressive tax. Which is to say people just have to buy more bags when they have more trash that they can’t reasonably do all that much about.

    4. Tony Wright

      Or maybe pass laws mandating that recycling of packaging is the responsibility of the product supplier.
      My black sense of humour imagines Jeff Bezos buried under a mountain of packaging…..
      We have just sort of started that locally with blister packs – not viable to separate the foil and plastic components unless scaled up by centralised collection, in this case as a matter of goodwill by a pharmacy chain.
      Of course this is too logical, so unlikely to be implemented on a significant level.
      But if it was you would suddenly get a revolution towards packaging that could be more easily recycled. No more black styrofoam meat trays ( only white styrofoam can be recycled apparently), and no more of those non-recyclable (cardboard) drink containers that are actually an inseparable amalgum of paper, plastic and aluminium. Just a couple of examples.

  11. cnchal

    Good thing that the new 9,500 lb electric Hummer doesn’t come wrapped in plastic.

    AI is the perfect tool for sifting garbage. Maybe the Chinese have an off the shelf system already.

  12. Michael

    California claims 40% of the waste stream is organic material that produces methane as it decays in landfills.
    “Organic waste” includes food, green material, landscape and pruning waste, organic textiles and carpets, lumber, wood, paper products, printing and writing paper, manure, biosolids, digestate, and sludges.

    Here in San Diego, following recent State law changes, residents were given cute plastic containers to put on their counters to collect kitchen scraps and a new plastic wheeled cart, like our garbage and recycling carts, to put yard waste and said scraps in. Scraps can include bones from factory farmed animals and greasy pizza boxes and In n Out burger wrappers. All processed into organic compost for sale by the City at its facility using ever more diesel equipment and of course plastic bags.

    Oddly, this is a free service for residents in single family homes. Called “The People’s Amendment” enacted in early 1900s and only last year voted to be studied and changed to be more fair so all pay. Public hearings in 2025 if the lawsuits don’t kill it first.

  13. Tim

    I’d go farther and say the whole recycling thing was the brainchild of the packaging industry to make people feel okay about accepting products with even more packaging.

    As much as we all hate Amazon, they’ve at least moved to removing unnecessary packaging for the products they deliver, delivered in regular cardboard boxes that are much easier to recycle. And deliver of multiple items on a route also saves carbon emissions vs individuals each driving from their home to a retail location.

  14. Susan the other

    There’s still an unsustainable push by the petroleum industry to produce plastics and synthetic materials. If that industry, petroleum, was required to address its socialization of costs (toxic waste) it would have to cut back on primary production because they could never break even. The boom in plastic packaging emerged simultaneously with “fuel efficiency” in the 70s. No doubt because if there isn’t enough profit incentive to pump oil then nobody will bother. The very mantra of the “free market”. So the first step is to nationalize energy production. Oil. It’s virtually nationalized already – just by the wrong interest group. And in the reorganization include solutions to all the pollution, including ocean gyres of plastic garbage. Cleanup as well as future maintenance and recycling.

  15. BarbaraVeigh

    We always seek out no plastic foam packaging material information before buying anything online.

    Imagine Amazon, or other major sellers, decreeing that no foam packaging material would be permitted as a condition of selling on that platform. Come on Mr. Bezos–just do it!

    Anything that comes with styrofoam packaging gets sent back for a refund, EVERY single time. Reason for return “unrecyclable foam packaging.” If enough people do this, it’ll cost them money and might spur that reform.

  16. Jeremy Grimm

    I believe waste and trash are profitable, although I do not have any links and cannot cite any sources to support that belief. At least in popular literature, the mob is fond of controlling trash collection, and I doubt that body removal and disposal is the sole benefit that accrues. The virtues of vertical monopolization are at least suggestive of further opportunities in waste dumps and landfills,

    I believe the precursors used for making plastic would be a waste portion of a petroleum crack — other than its uses for powering storm lamps. Plastics were to naphtha what the automobile was to gasoline. Plastic recycling — other than burning it to generate electric power is complex, and beyond my knowledge.

    Recycling glass is greatly complicated by the costs of collecting it and processing it for reuse or recycling. I believe collecting glass probably incurs more cost than the costs of its distribution to retail outlets [I am not accounting for the costs to consumers for transporting glass from retailer to home kitchen shelves.] Before it can be reused glass would have to be sorted by reuse and often by re-user — Coke would not want to reuse Pepsi bottles. The glass would need to have labels and glue removed, although many glass containers now come with painted labels most of which are difficult to remove at best. The many kinds of glass and the variable composition of glass within a category make melting waste glass for reuse in glass manufacturing [ignoring the relative lack of glass manufacturing that remains in the u.s.] problematic. I have seen figures ranging from 10% — 20% up to a claim of 50% for the amount of glass cullet added to the raw materials used to produce a glass batch for making bottles or jars. I believe a figure of 30% is probably closest to the commonly used amount and I am not sure how much of that use of cullet is motivated by government mandate, and paid for from various government subsidies along recycling logistics chain. Glass recycling in the u.s. could be improved through government regulation of legions of little things like what kind of glue is used for labeling jars and bottles — but the idea of such regulation is anathema to the u.s. Power Elites and PMC class.

    Many goods use materials in ways that make separating their constituents prohibitive.

  17. John

    In the conversation, there is no consideration of the Externalization of Costs. As long as the costs are born by someone else, there will be no progress. For instance whole Amazon Model is a cost Externalization model. If the true costs of the entire process were built into what everyone paid, we would see a completely different way of doing business. Additionally the cost of lost businesses, jobs, and manufacturing is not internalized, because in our financialized world the people who benefit from the existing system, are very different people from those who loose their jobs and community. There is no reason, a modified Amazon Model that used Local Manufacturers, Local distribution centers, with reusable shipping containers, jars, and local repair and service centers etc. could not be developed, other than this would distribute the profits differently, and that would not be in the interests of those people who benefit from the existing system

  18. square coats

    Something I’ve long admired is the packaging I’ve found on many Japanese stationery products (for which I have a pronounced fondness), all cleverly designed and folded cardboard with no adhesives used anywhere.

  19. jonboinAR

    Recycling could be simply mandated, I would think. Lacking is the will to do it. Take for example, packaging. The US government could simply impose a large fee, or fine, to manufacturers for all of the packaging that they use. This “fee”, let’s call it, sounds better than “fine”, gets reduced by an amount commensurate with the amount that the packaging material can be provably reused. How does the manufacturer cause the packaging material to get recycled? As the governing body, I don’t know or care. I’m confident that whether it’s the initial manufacturer I’m charging the fee, tariff, whatever it should be called, to, or distributor, somewhere in the manufacturing/distribution process I can find a bottleneck I can choke with my fee, that if I make it onerous enough, the waste reduction I’m demanding will get done. They wouldn’t stop making and selling stuff because waste reduction is simply impossible. It’s not. “They” would get it done. Would the consumer pay more? Would there be pain? Probably, yes.

    1. sharonsj

      I live in rural Pennsylvania. None of the local trash pickup companies recycle anything. Only the cities and larger towns do. And our politicians don’t give a crap anyway. (pun intended)

  20. Adam Eran

    Worth remembering: We used to re-use soda bottles before the propaganda (“Keep America Beautiful”) funded by the trash-generators took over. It was a hassle, but all that plastic and beer can waste was not a factor in living memory

    1. Joe Well

      Anecdota: in Mexico they’re bringing back returnable glass bottles for Coke. In-store advertising campaigns and everything.

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