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Published on November 28th, 2012 | by Sara Stroman

On Garbage Cans, Recycling and the Responsibility of Garbage

Several months ago, it might have been a year ago at this point, I had this amazing suggestion for the New York City Hotline “311” – (A service where citizens of New York City could call in with suggestions, questions, and to make reports on disturbances, or just praise activities and City undertakings) – offer recycling bins on the street corners along side garbage cans. If you are going to pedal to the “on-the-go” mentality of our current society, then allow citizens to consider their options when throwing away their conveniences.

This idea came to me as I carried an empty container in my purse until I got home because I didn’t have a recycling option while walking down the street. (Note that I do carry a reusable glass beverage container, sometimes however, I get the urge for a Coke or tea and buy a bottle.)

Now, some may say that it is not the City’s responsibility to offer recycling bins on the street. And I might agree with you, if the City weren’t offering other “green” initiatives such as farmers markets, composting, and passing a law that will not allow certain electrical items to be thrown out with curbside trash as of 2015.

I did not call the Hotline because I’ve always battled on whether recycling should be an individual choice and responsibility based on ethics or a large national marketing-type campaign fueled by our federal and local governments?

I tend to believe in the individual choice. I want to treat the Earth better, so I do everything in my power to make choices that reflect that decision. I recycle. I try to educate friends and family members on recycling. I have volunteered with the GrowNYC street team that teaches recycling at large and small public events. However, I’ve always believed that if you don’t give people the proper tools to educate themselves, they won’t know.  (And yes, at a certain point you, as an individual, should go out and look for this information, but again, if you don’t know how to do you where to look?)

Hence wanting the City to put recycling bins on the street in addition to garbage cans. Once that happens, and we see some movement, maybe we offer composting bins for non-greasy food scraps. The goal is that by starting small, we make people consider their options and watch them adapt.  That is the beauty of human beings after all; we are adaptable. While some may not follow, if we show people the options and the benefits of said options, they will adapt and even possibly change.

Whoa, I know I’m sounding a lot idealistic and a bit socialist here, but I’m not a socialist (I’m an entrepreneur after all!), and I do tend to believe in people and the power they have for impact if given the proper tools and a chance.

Now, I bring this up because in Japan recycling is both a campaign distinguished by each City (government enforced) and individual responsibility.  In other words, everyone recycles at home because they have must; they don’t have a choice.  From what I’ve been told (by my Japanese hostess) due to this feeling of isolation (island in the sea), Japanese people save for the future whether it is bright or not (natural disasters) and the idea of wasting anything, be it food, water, clothing, etc, is a no-no. While this makes for a wonderfully inventive and interesting array of products and packaging (a topic for a later post) to be consumed, recycled, and reused, this also means that the idea of having garbage cans on the streets is also a no-no.

Which can lead to nights like the other where I grabbed a quick bite to eat from the neighborhood 7eleven and couldn’t throw away my plastic wrap. I fumed in frustration at not being able to find a garbage receptacle anywhere, and at the same time, experienced wonderment at a country where the mentality is you use and you recycle in your home, not on the streets.

As I walked up the hill to the house I am staying at, carrying this container, I also thought about how if I were home in New York I would have carried it home to my apartment  to recycle it, or I might not have purchased it at all because of all the packaging (the Japanese do use a lot of packaging oddly enough), so I couldn’t be quite so mad.  It is two of the same apple in the barrel, really.

In the kitchen, I rinsed out the container, the soy sauce packet and disposed of each piece in their proper bag (more details on that soon!) and then suddenly burst out in laughter as I remembered my desire to ask New York City to add recycling bins on the street corners, when minutes before I was walking the streets of a really clean town in Japan, where recycling is an individual and City requirement, wishing for a garbage can to appear and take away my trash; to be convenient for me and remove my responsibility. Oh, the humor!

On a theoretical note though, I’m not quite sure which is the right way. I think for now, in America, starting off with small steps is the way to go and that includes offering garbage and recycling bins. Cities can help jump start it by providing small services like recycling bins, but if funds are lacking, then  recycling has to be individually motivated.  As things pick up and citizens feel better about the economy and jobs, recycling can become a stronger national issue.  On the flip side,  it is in trying times that change does take shape and can have more of an impact…so maybe I should make a call to 311 from Japan after all and see what happens? I think I just may enter a ticket through the website.



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4 Responses to On Garbage Cans, Recycling and the Responsibility of Garbage

  1. I love seeing what other countries do in these situations. I await more info on your trip to Japan.

    I think it is quite reasonable to suggest recycling bins on the streets of NYC. If the city is offering public trash cans, why not have recycling bins too. Recycling is often cheaper for the city as well. In fact, maybe, as crazy as this may sound, would if we flipped the whole thing around and ONLY had recycling bins in public spots. If you have trash, bring it home. What is in those garbage cans? I see mostly paper, plastic bottles, and coffee cups. Not all coffee cups can be recycled but the others can.

    This year, our Parks and Recreation Dept. decided to go “Carry in Carry out” in all public spots. We are in the suburbs so those public spots were parks and sports fields. By that they mean, just like in national parks, you carried it in, you carry it out. There are NO trash cans or recycling bins. This is slowly being rolled out, with some successes and of course, some failures. Now I don’t think this would work in the city. But I think it’s reasonable to push some change. If people see recycling bins, they will, hopefully, think about that option. If you only have trash cans, it makes it so much easier to just toss everything in and never even think about other options.

    • saras says:

      Exactly, Kristina! I’m glad to hear that your Parks and Recreation Dept is rolling out that program. The importance is that we give people the possibility to think about their actions. Again, not everyone is going to accept it (note: I have seen trash thrown on the streets here in Japan), but there is more of a responsibility and a consideration and I believe it is the most important thing when facilitating change.

      As for NYC only offering recycling bins only, that would be amazing! I hope that happens one day. For now, I’ll start with my suggestion to add recycling bins.

  2. Dana Caffrey says:

    Very interesting! Mother Earth is really getting old and people need to do something about it. Going green is something that everybody should do. I hope we all learn to reuse and recycle.

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