In the US "mandatory" is a hot word. We just don't like the government to intervene in our personal choices because one of the biggest issues in the building of our nation was to prevent the government to turn into some sort of absolutist entity that could meddle in our everyday activities, or in our freedom of choice. That is what makes the US a unique country.
Second, not everyone believes in the concept of global warming nor the correlation between recycling and saving the Earth. This, I am speaking from a uniquely conservatist perspective, which I have the right to use.
However, recycling is actually a good idea. Why trash everything? It is more reasonable to use what we have and put it to a different use rather than let it stnk and poison us. If we want to implement recycling as a common practice, just appealing to the common sense of it will bring wonderful results.
While it is definitely a good idea to recycle, like several posters above have said, it would be difficult to mandate.
Many cities already have recycling programs where citizens are fined if they are caught not participating correctly. However, I am a big fan of less government. The more we invite government into the different aspects or our lives, the more controlled we will become. It is a slippery slope. Better, I think, to encourage doing the right thing, than legislating it.
Here in NZ we are charged per bag for non- recyclable waste and have to sort the rest. It means I am more keen to sort as I prefer not to pay. I have certainly got more thoughtful over what I buy in the first place, and spend less than $3 a month. I think, however, that most of the pressure comes from our social conscience to be 'green'. Sadly in remote areas I know they resort to burniing everything, which kind of cancels out some of the good work that happens elsewhere.
I think it is a question of how to make people realise it is a necessary process to save the environment and ourselves. In the same way that smoking is regulated and limited (hopefully to extinction), similar campaigns of education, support and penalty need to be used collectively to help people make healthy choices.
No, recycling should not be mandatory. However, because recycling is a good idea and something which should be done, people should certainly be given incentives to do it. The problem with making it mandatory, at least in many places in the U.S., is a lack of accessible opportunities to do the right thing. If it is too hard, if there is not a strong recycling progam in place, there is no incentive to participate. Iowa has a five-cent tax on all bottles, and because I had to pay that, I began to see an empty bottle not as trash but as something to be returned. Now that I live in a different state, one without a bottle tax or "easy" recycling, I throw my bottles and cans away--but not without a twinge of guilt.
I certainly think that everyone should voluntarily recycle, but I can't see fining or (God forbid) arresting people for failure to do so. The last thing that U.S. citizens need are more laws restricting their personal freedoms. Upstanding citizens who recognize the importance of saving the environment will continue to recycle, and I can only hope that those who don't recycle will gradually come around.
I personally think it should be made mandatory. I think it is selfish not to recycle, and given an increasing awareness of the limited resources of the world, it is the only sensible option to try and conserve our resources and to cut down on the level of materials that are wasted and used up. It angers me no end that there are so many people who don't think recycling is for them or can't be bothered or say they don't have time. This is way recycling is something that needs to be enforced, unfortunately.
I think that recycling should be made mandatory. Although there would be some who would disregard the enforcement, you could have many who normally would not recycle at least feel bound to have to do so. Many people would recycle if they felt there was some type of enforcement. As with any enforcement, you will have those who totally ignore any type of recycling enforcement, but for the ones who try and follow enforcement, it would be worth the extra effort assigned to such an enforcement.
I agree with litteacher8 that mass enforcement will be problem. I spent several years in Japan where recycling is mandatory. If you don't recycle, you do get a fine. But what makes the system really effective is the social pressure to recycle. If someone sees a recyclable in your regular trash bin, changes are good they'll say something to you about it. In the U.S., more effective awareness campaigns about the need to recycle would probably do more than simply making it mandatory.
I am not sure how you would enforce "mandatory" on a wide-scale, but most cities in my state (California) already do have recycling programs. Supposedly, there are fines for not separating out recyclables. We have a garbage can for trash and one for recyclable, and another for green waste. I believe it is mandatory for businesses.