What more can be done to get people to recycle more or consume less?The year 1987 had an unlikely celebrity. A garbage barge, named “Mobro 4000,” became famous because it had nowhere to unload...

What more can be done to get people to recycle more or consume less?

The year 1987 had an unlikely celebrity. A garbage barge, named “Mobro 4000,” became famous because it had nowhere to unload its cargo of waste. The barge traveled from New York to North Carolina to Belize, looking for someone to accept its cargo of rotting garbage and medical waste. The barge became a symbol of our national problem of overflowing landfills. After this incident, recycling efforts began in earnest. But it is estimated that while 70% of trash is recyclable, only 30% is actually recycled. There will come a time, probably in the not-to-distant-future, when more Mobro 4000s appear. What more can be done to get people to recycle or consume less?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Unfortunately, the difficulty with recycling is that there have been no to few safe and equally recyclable end-products of recycling. This psychologically deters many from recycling. [End-product viability has begun to improve in the last decade but there is still far to go.] Recycling is a full circle, closed circle process. If there is no viable end-product that is safe during production, safe for consumers and itself safely recyclable, then recycling is a conceptual failure [don't everybody jump on me at once].

Here are a couple of examples: green, non-toxic builders have routinely rejected alternative building products made from recycled paper because of the high, disqualifying, toxin levels; grocery stores ultimately rejected some offerings of recycled-plastic shopping bags because of the extreme gassing off of unstable toxins (customers complained and would not accept the "stinky" bags); recycled-paper cat litter gasses off toxins to such an extent cats are made ill, sometimes fatally so; plastic-resin molded chairs cannot be broken down or degraded nor recycled into another material, thus are a permanent fixture.

There has been progress in creating safe-to-produce and safe-to-use and safe-to-dispose of or re-recycle end-products. For example oxygen is used in the final stages in recycling some papers instead of chlorine bleach to avoid the creation of VOC dioxins that add to chemical body burden and add to indoor air toxicity. But there is still far to go.

My point is that when end products are safe at all recycling levels, then more people will have more impetus to recycle more. As to consuming less, one great and industry cost-cutting step is to reduce packaging of purchasable items (of course, the plastics companies will notlike this), from foods to paperclips: (Oh, and did I mention that foods packaged in recycled paper packaging absorb the gassed-off toxins from the recycled paper? Well they do. This is the source of part of the now ubiquitous chemical body burden you will hear more and more about.)


  • Increase recycling: Provide end products that are safe at all levels of the closed recycling circle.
  • Consume less: Begin by reducing and simplifying packaging on goods.
Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the best way to encourage recycling is to give people an economic incentive to do so.  This could happen in many different ways, but most businesses and households would be more interested in recycling if it was more of a personally relevant issue.  The problem with recycling is that many people view it as a problem for someone else.  Putting incentives on recycling makes it a contemporary issue.

Businesses could receive tax breaks or other incentives from the municipality if they hit certain recycling quotas.  Schools could receive increased funding from the state if they met certain recycling goals.  Individual households could see decreased utility bills if recycling standards were met.  While this would take time, energy, and money to institute, in the end there would be a great benefit to society both economically and ecologically. 

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We are asking the three basic "R" questions here:

1. How do we encourage more recyclying? 2. How do we encourage more re-use? 3. How do we encourage people to reduce consumption?

One simple (possibly over-simple) answer: Higher quality products at a slightly higher price. We would all be more likely to re-use a product (container; tool; utensil, etc.) if this product was of such a quality as to be obviously re-usable. 

Travel coffee mugs are one example of a push toward re-use, which in turn creates a situation of reduced consumption of paper and plastic cups. These mugs will be most effective if they are actually useful and well made (a good size and durability). 




pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the main thing is to make recycling simpler.  This is something that has been done even in my small town in the conservative part of Washington.  We now have curbside recycling for essentially everything except glass.  This makes it much easier to recycle as we do not have to sort our stuff and we do not have to go anywhere to recycle.  At the same time, they reduced the size of our garbage cans, thus giving us a nudge towards recycling more.  I think that this sort of thing is the best way to get more people to do something that they probably wouldn't oppose so long as it was not a major hassle.


shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with post 4, you've got to give people an incentive. The environmentally conscious are already recycling, but other folks aren't going to do it unless they have a reason to. A financial incentive might help, but who can afford to pay for it.

Post 2 makes a good point. If the products we use are made to last, then we don't need to throw them away. That could work for some things.

When the problem becomes bad enough, governments will have to start to legislate against certain types of products that cause the most trouble.

Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I completely understand where you are coming from, but considering all the things our government wastes money on, this might actually be worth spending a bit on.  Perhaps some of the money could come from increased revenue from newly generated recycling.  Also, if you take a big picture look at the situation, opening new landfills isn't exactly a free enterprise.  Even if the program breaks even, it would be an environmental win.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
I think there has been way more recycling since trash companies started requiring it. In my city, you have three bins. One is for trash, one is for recyclables, and one is for green waste. You actually get fined for putting recyclables in the trash, or putting trash in the recycle bin.

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