Archive for January, 2009

Recycle – what for?

January 31, 2009

Ouch. Another wine bottle tossed into the kitchen trash can. Another empty cracker box, plastic milk jug, soda can, margarine container, folded newspaper. It’s Christmas and the amount of trash we produce during one single family dinner is enormous. N932064_city_dumpothing gets recycled and nobody seems to care.

Then my mother-in-law makes a remarkable and unexpected statement: “One of my New Year’s resolutions is to start recycling,” she declares. She has barely finished her sentence before I get to work, digging wine bottles out of the trash. “We’ll keep them in the garage for now,” I tell my surprised in-laws.

This is what Sweden does to you. It turns you into a recycling zealot. Once a week, the garbage truck showed up in our Stockholm suburb to weigh our garbage. The more garbage we produced, the higher our monthly bill would be.

Those of us who separated our organic food waste and stuck it in biodegradable bags in a special trash can paid less than those who would throw everything in the main trash can. And those who produced less garbage by bringing paper, plastics, cans and glass to one of the many recycling stations in our county paid even less.

Recycling, to Swedes, is a lifestyle.

Every weekend, I would fill our Honda Combi with bags of 736426_recycle_2waste. Green glass was separated from clear glass, plastics from newspapers, soup cans from milk cartons, and thrown into large green containers. Plastic soda bottles and beer cans, however, would go in a special bag destined for the grocery store.

There, people lined up in front of large machines that swallowed the cans, crunched them up and spit out a receipt. We’d give the store cashier the receipt and the bottle redemption was deducted from our grocery bill.

A small incentive, but it worked – just like the threat of a larger garbage bill did. No wonder, only 4 percent of Swedish garbage ends up in the landfill.

Although the country of 9 million produces nearly 24 percent more waste today than a decade ago (4.7 million tons), nearly 50 percent of all Swedish trash is recycled. Another 46 percent is incinerated at high temperatures to produce heat for apartment buildings in metropolitan areas. By comparison, more than half of all municipal waste in the United States still still went to the landfill in 2007, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest report.

This is not rocket science. Give people a financial incentive and efficient recycling programs and they do the right thing. So why don’t we?

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