Should recycling be part of your everyday routine?

A quick question for you:

Do you recycle?

photo by spratmackrel

photo by spratmackrel

While checking my Twitter feed, I noticed the following update from Sheffield student @Joe_Oliver:

“Going on a recee to find some recycling bins – before my housemates simply throw my heap of carefully collated recycling away…”

This reminded me of a conversation with a friend earlier this year about recycling when fewer people were doing it on a regular basis.  She said she’d been recycling as much as she could from an early age.  It just came naturally.  But many of her other friends thought it was time consuming and pointless.

This further reminded me of one of my uni house shares.  The council do a recycling collection (as you’d expect), so I put out boxes for paper/card, plastics and metals in the kitchen and asked everyone to use them.  It was a little bit of extra work, but surely something worth doing.

However, not everyone wanted to take part.  I’d see stuff like uncrushed cardboard cereal boxes and plastic milk packaging in the refuse bin.  They pretty much filled up the bin on their own!  Since it was easy enough to do, I’d take the stuff out the bin and put it with the recycling. [I tried not to moan…it’s their choice, after all!]

Then there were bottles.  As ‘typical’ students, we tend to dabble in alcohol on occasion.  With large quantities of empties from the delicious wine, beer, and the like, that’s a lot of glass to be recycled.  Just a short walk away on uni grounds (60, maybe 90 seconds walking distance), there was a bottle bank.  But that short walk was enough to mean bottles were often put in the bin, rather than the bank.

photo by James Cridland

photo by James Cridland

Universities are keen to promote as many environmentally friendly credentials as possible, helping wherever they can to make saving our planet as easy as possible.  Among student-facing measures, many universities have introduced initiatives such as recycling facilities in communal areas on campus and in accommodation, making the process even easier to deal with.  But a uni can’t succeed unless students do their bit too.

Part of the problem is that universities probably have more incentive to ‘go green’ than individual students.  In Monday’s Guardian, there was a piece about the forthcoming book, Superfreakanomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (Amazon link).  The article states:

The problem with trying to reduce carbon emissions, [the authors] argue, is that the incentives are all wrong. Too many of the benefits are “externalities”, from which the people making the sacrifices will never benefit – and the whole history of economics demonstrates that such completely unself-interested behaviour is impossible to implement on a large scale, especially when so many people suspect that their sacrifice would not, in fact, make a significant difference to the outcome. “Behaviour change is hopeless,” Levitt says. “It’s just completely pointless to think that you’re going to get six billion people, the poorest people around and the richest people around, to work together, when every individual person has no impact on the problem. That’s a fundamental issue that economists have thought about, and recognised the hopelessness of, for hundreds of years . . . One thing we know is that I’m not going to sacrifice, materially, my own life, to help an anonymous person in Bangladesh who might not even have been born yet, when I know that there will be no help for that person anyway.” Calling on people to reduce their carbon emissions, the authors write, “is a noble invitation. But as incentives go, it’s not a very strong one.”

If this is the case, it’s a real shame.  Though there is hope.  A report in The Economist about the International Energy Agency’s “World Energy Outlook 2009” concluded:

“Green-minded folk have been reminding this correspondent to switch the lights off when leaving a room for years, but it has taken a detailed report on the matter from an international organisation to persuade him of the case.”

At least they were persuaded!

Whatever the case is, I did think recycling was becoming an everyday thing for most of us now.  However, it seems there are still a number of students who haven’t made it part of their lifestyle.  It doesn’t take much to think before chucking everything in a bin.  I hope lack of incentive doesn’t cause all requests to be fruitless.

I mentioned the 10:10 campaign when it launched.  The campaign asks us to reduce our carbon emissions by 10% by 2010.  It’s a big deal, but with an achievable target.  Recycling is one way you can aim toward that 10% target.  For more ways to reduce your emissions, read this 10-point checklist.

There’s a saying that I expect most of you have heard:

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”

photo by Nick Bramhall

photo by Nick Bramhall

The words are in order of importance.  Therefore, if you don’t reduce, then reuse.  If you don’t reuse, then recycle.  If you don’t recycle… 😦

None of us are perfect, but when it comes to simple changes, surely it’s worth the few seconds of hassle to help for the longer term.  Isn’t it?

What’s your experience?  Are you a keen recycler (or not)?  Have you signed up to 10:10?  How do you help protect the environment?

photo by Polska Zielona Siec

photo by Polska Zielona Siec