Resistance to Curbside Recycling: The Illinois Metaphor


By: Dennis Salazar

Recently I watched the local morning television news and listened to a story about a neighboring city that was meeting great resistance to a proposed curb side recycling plan. Unlike some communities that impose hefty fees on residents for recycling service, the program being offered and rejected in Joliet, Illinois is absolutely free.

An Inconvenient Truth

With apologies and credit to Al Gore, according to the news report, the city office is being swamped with calls from irate Joliet residents who are resisting having to haul their recyclables “all the way to the curb at the end of their driveway.” While I am certain there are some for whom this would be a physical strain or hardship, let’s be honest and admit that for most it is simply a matter of inconvenience, combined with a healthy dose of resistance to change and just a dash of laziness.

Some legitimately claim that they do not have a driveway or even a sidewalk leading to the curb in front of their house. Keep in mind that in some urban areas many residential streets have alleys behind the houses which lead to their garages and parking areas are also where all waste removal presently occurs. I doubt the lack of a driveway is an insurmountable problem, but one that may require some flexibility and thought. However, it also serves as a good excuse for those more interested in fighting the proposed recycling program, rather than figuring out how to make it work.

Joliet, IL – A Microcosm for the Country

Unfortunately what we are witnessing in Joliet is typical of what we see in many other parts of the country when well meaning municipal governments attempt to implement green programs, especially recycling efforts. People decide that they simply do not want to be hassled with having to worry about sorting or even just single stream recycling of their recyclable waste

In the meantime, there are other towns and villages that have very strict and expensive recycling programs where recycling is not only expected, it is required. I have friends on the west coast who are absolutely appalled at what people in other parts of the country get away with in terms of discarding recyclable waste. The discrepancy is not just from one part of the country to another. In fact, two neighboring towns can have completely different and totally unfair recycling programs in terms of cost and in the level of participation expected from their residents.

Recycling or Bust?

Much like travelers who used to advertise their destination on their vehicle or horse drawn wagon, while admitting there is no “Plan B,” I sincerely believe in terms of recycling, whether we want to admit it or not, we really don’t have a good option or alternative. While some hope the problem will simply go away, and others are counting on science to deliver the earth-saving cure, neither is likely to happen any time soon.

The negative public reaction we see in Joliet and other places is not going to disappear any more than the mountains of waste we accumulate daily. Nothing is going to change dramatically until we either start charging people for not recycling or make it mandatory for all. This by the way, is not intended to replace or diminish innovation or science but to ideally accelerate it as processing recyclable waste becomes a profitable enterprise able to create jobs, while it helps solve this huge problem that just grows worse daily.

I’m not sure why we still don’t have a comprehensive and consistent national recycling policy. It seems recently our political leaders are eager to delve into and control every facet of our lives, so why don’t they assume responsibility for this area where it is quite obvious we have lost control and need federal law to protect us from ourselves.

The day after the Joliet story made news, I heard about another Chicago suburb, Arlington Heights that is trying to pass an ordinance allowing residents to install solar panels and small wind turbines to create green, clean energy. I’m not sure what Arlington Heights does about their recycling waste but I guess we have to take our good news where we can find it.

Dennis Salazar is the CEO of Salazar Packaging, a sustainable packaging company.

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