Should we still require recycling?
I walk regularly and I pick up trash when I do so.
I always inspect the neighbors' trash cans and yes, I do dumpster dive on occasion.
I put on -- in the past -- programs on waste management, recycling, and the like.
I even had the signal pleasure of touring Waste Management of PA's central, state-of-the-art single-stream recycling facility. It was amazing and if there is a single-stream recycling facility anywhere within driving distance, you should absolutely arrange for a tour. Most of these places do tours for school and civic groups.
All of this is to lead into my topic. I know plenty about recycling. My trash hauler (WM of PA) tells anyone who asks, as often as they can, what can be recycled. It's complicated because many plastics such as Styrofoam that have the recycle triangle/arrow symbol on them can't be handled. Glass, while collected in my area, isn't recycled because it's cheaper to make new glass from sand and then the glass factory doesn't have to sort the identical shards of clear glass apart before melting.
Window pane glass, drinking tumblers, crystal, and glass jars are all clear but they are NOT THE SAME.
The Chinese, who were acting as America's garbage dump, are now refusing recyclables if they are above a certain contamination point.
I see what my neighbors through out all over Hershey. This is an educated area where plenty of citizens use reusable cloth bags. They tout their green credentials.
Yet overall, the majority of trash cans and recycle bins I see are not separated. Recycle bins are crammed with trash bags stuffed with God knows what. Recycling that isn't sorted by the homeowner has to be sorted at the facility. Trash bags have to be ripped open (they clog the automated sorting equipment), propane tanks have to be removed, all kinds of stuff has to be hand-picked out by employees in hazmat suits.
I'm really wondering if we didn't get better recycling when serious people sorted their glass and cans, boy scouts did paper drives, and everyone else just tossed their trash. Yeah, I know it goes to the landfill but so does plenty of what is supposedly being recycled.
We might get better compliance when the Chinese force our hand. Then, the only accepted recycling will be newspaper, cardboard, metal, aluminum, and soda bottles. Based on my direct observations over the last few decades, most people (not all!) can handle that level of sorting.
They cannot, sadly, do more.
Never forget that by definition, half the population is below the medium for intelligence.
Even more people have no reason to care. High costs will make them care but as soon as the higher costs go away, so does compliance.
Moreover, I don't believe most citizens see a direct, one-to-one benefit from recycling. It's just one more task in an already too-busy life. If we can't get people to see that combining their car trips will save time and gas $$ how can we expect people to properly sort garbage?
I know this is depressing but reality often is.