Tempe has the lowest recycling rate in Arizona

Tempe has the lowest recycling rate in Arizona at "roughly 11 percent" (Howard). One of the major contributors to this problem are college students living in off-campus apartments with few recycling opportunities. Mackenzie Paul, a student who lives near Arizona State University, "often throws recyclable items down the trash chute for convenience" (Howard). Living on the fifteenth floor, it is inconvenient for him to traverse the steps for a mere piece of paper. Even though Paul does recycle larger items, he, along with many other college students, trash rather than appropriately dispose of recyclables. Among other students in the same predicament, Paul believes that he and his roommate recycle more. Ashley Camhi realized the extent of the problem while working out; she learned that the local gym did not recycle. To promote good behavior in both individuals and businesses, Camhi proposed two options: “either have policy and legislation or…economics and incentives” (Howard). Graeson Caspers, a student who moved to Tempe from Washington, is discouraged by the lack of recycling and believes people should do more. Having been around higher levels of recycling for as long as he can remember, Caspers was shocked by how many individuals dispose of recyclables incorrectly for the sake of convenience. While an individual's recycling habit may not have a large effect on the overall lack of recycling on a global scale, Graeson Caspers believes that "‘a little can go a long way when everyone takes part'" (Howard).

As many communities do not have easy access to recycling, people often throw out materials that take centuries to degrade, affecting the lives of animals and mankind alike. Earlier this year, a deceased whale was found in the Philippines having consumed 88 pounds of plastic. Not realizing that the plastic was inedible and being unable to digest or gain nutrients from it, the 1,100-pound whale starved to death (Victor). This is not an uncommon occurrence. In 2017, the United Nations discovered that “plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish each year” (United Nations). Along with the major effect it has on the health of wildlife, a lack of recycling negatively impacts the environment by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, leading to higher levels of global warming. Nearly all humans are affected by a lack of recycling because plastic pollution causes “air, water, and land pollution…[by interacting] with water and [forming] hazardous chemicals” (Rinkesh). People who live in areas with little access to water are more at risk than those who have an abundance. In Arizona, the desert environment allows little access to natural water. The water shortage problem would only be exacerbated if the vast majority of groundwater is polluted by plastic found in landfills. Additionally, dangerous chemicals are released when plastic is burned and “affect [human and animal] health and can cause respiratory problems” (Rinkesh). Individuals who are more susceptible to health problems have a much higher risk. While many people only blame inadequate plastic disposal and pollution for the problems, most recyclable materials have a large amount of waste. In addition to the “8.3 billion metric tons” of plastic waste (Parker), “24 million tons of metal waste was generated and almost 8 million tons (34 percent) were recycled in that year” (Leblanc). In the United States as a whole, lack of recycling is only increasing. In 2016, some believed that recycling was in crisis because “Waste Management [had] closed sold or exited 30 of their recycling facilities over the past few years, about 21 percent” (Schlesinger). Throughout the country, fewer services have led to diminished opportunities to recycle. Near Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, there is limited access to recycling services, with some complexes having one bin emptied each week for fifteen floors of people. Individuals who want to recycle must go out of their way to responsibly dispose of their products, leading to many individuals dumping all their waste in the trash rather than take their recyclables to the nearest container. Not only can it be time-consuming to recycle with little personal incentive, but many people also recycle incorrectly. The numbers and symbols all have different meanings, and some materials that would seem recyclable are not. These misconceptions and confusion continue to lead to wasted money and resources. Arizona State University has attempted to increase recycling rates by offering “services in every residential hall…[and to] become a zero-waste school through various sustainability initiatives such as composting, proper recycling and other things” (Howard). While this has appeared to work for on-campus students, it is difficult for their off-campus counterparts to recycle without the same opportunities. Ever since the 1950s when “single-use packaging was just being developed, and manufacturers were excited about the higher profit margins”, larger-scale solutions have been proposed in the form of bills. However, most of these added taxes or policies are opposed by producers, making it difficult to rid the market of single-use products that are oftentimes disposed of incorrectly. To save profits, plastic producers formed “the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition and the American Progressive Bag Alliance to fight bag bans under the guise of defending customer’s finances and freedom to choose” (Wilkins).

These public policies enacted without a large enough subsidy are fought by those who would lose profit. By hiding their true beliefs under the guise of freedom, these producers convince consumers that larger scale policies would never work, leading to increased levels of goods that are difficult to recycle. A stepping-stone solution should be formed at a small-scale level in order to produce lasting change with little to no resistance.

To solve this multi-faceted problem, a small-scale, all-inclusive solution could be initiated to promote recycling in the areas surrounding Arizona State University. Using taxpayer money and volunteer support, the community can be taught what items are recyclable, incentives can be made for recycling, and recycling services can be made more accessible. Many individuals recycle dirty items or sort items into the wrong bins.

When these mistakes occur, the questionable items, along with some surrounding items, are removed and thrown out. Two solutions could be initiated together to solve this specific problem. Along with teaching the community how and what to recycle through town meetings and informative signs, volunteers could sort bins of recycling, cleaning the products as they went along. Through this method, both confused individuals who want to learn and busy individuals who find recycling to be a waste of time can bring their recycling to community centers. Additionally, bins and recycling centers could have the instructions and common misconceptions, rather than mere symbols, written on the container to ensure that people adequately recycle. Not only should there be a multitude of learning opportunities, but recycling should also be promoted with economic incentives. To incentivize people to recycle, can returns should be in most grocery stores to promote recycling. By reducing the number of trips one must take to find the nearest machine, it is more likely that a person would take some time out of their day to recycle. Because “recycling aluminum takes 95% less energy than making aluminum from raw materials” (Recycling Facts and Tips), energy saving costs would likely make up for installation and repair of the machines. Glass, paper, and plastic returns could be installed in stores near the can and bottle disposals.

Even though other recyclables do not reduce energy use by as much as aluminum, the overall benefits of added recycling services would outweigh the costs through the energy and material savings. If it is not sustainable to pay consumers to recycle with funds generated from the material and energy savings, consumers could be taxed a small sum of money that is returned to them when they correctly recycle the product.

If not recycled, the generated funds can be put entirely into environmental programs and/or funding this proposal. A system that punishes people who do not recycle and rewards those who do would likely increase recycling rates. To put the machines in place, taxpayer money could be used. Once installed, any costs can be covered by money not returned to the consumer. In addition to more monetary return stations, non-profit organizations or other volunteers can set up bins in areas that lack access to recycling. If more bins are seen, it may influence a sense of ownership in a person, leading to higher recycling rates. Once a week, volunteers could collect the bins and sort the products. Because it is unlikely that every area would have adequate access to the containers, a collection for recyclable goods can be held by schools, companies, or other volunteers as they sort the materials. This would allow people to have a one-stop service that would bear the brunt of the workload. If paired with monetary return machines, the money generated from recycling the items found in the bins could be used to promote the program or be donated to other climate change organizations. Through education, incentives, and more access to services, recycling rates would be higher, leading to better health, a better environment, and lower costs in the future.
Recycling promotes responsibility in adults and children alike, creates volunteer opportunities for service hours, contributes to the health of humans and animals, and saves resources and land space. Additionally, it creates a more sustainable future. Taught that they must give up some of their time or energy to accomplish their small task of improving the environment, children will become more responsible adults. By providing volunteer opportunities for required service hours, students can learn how to improve their communities through everyday acts. Programs designed to promote individual “recycling is a promising first step to take in reducing [energy and environmental concerns] and allowing for humanity to go on healthier and stronger” (Why Is Recycling Important). Along with a reduction in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, recycling saves landfill space. As “most states have less than twenty years of landfill capacity”(Recycling Myths and Excuses), a lack of landfill space will lead to more landfills, higher shipping costs, and more health problems. Few people want to live near landfills, leading to decreased opportunities for city growth. Because recycling does require work, albeit a small amount, it can increase the responsibility of children and young adults. Rather than create a policy people would consider a violation of freedom, a long-lasting solution designed to promote good behavior should be enacted. Through the promotion of recycling, a more sustainable future can be created for future generations. As mankind needs certain items and conditions to continue to thrive, increased sustainability is important for “making sure that [humans] have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and [the] environment" (Why is Recycling Important).

One important benefit of recycling is the amount of energy it saves. The energy used to create one brand-new aluminum can “could produce twenty recycled cans” (UAF). This conservation of natural resources and energy will be economically beneficial for the future. Recycling other materials also leads to energy savings. Producing “recycled steel saves 60%, recycled newspaper 40%, recycled plastics 70%, and recycled glass 40%” (Recycling Myths and Excuses). With current rates of recycling, the United States “is saving enough energy to provide electricity for 9 million homes per year” (Recycling Myths and Excuses). Not only does recycling save resources, it “offers overall net greenhouse gas flux savings of between about 30 (for glass) and 95 (for [aluminum]) kg CO2 eq/tonne MSW, compared with landfilling untreated waste” (Smith et al. iv). Not only does recycling save energy and the environment, but it also promotes economic growth. If the United States increased its “recycling rate to 75% by 2030, the [United States] could create 1.1 million new jobs” (Zero Waste Creates Jobs).

Human health is also greatly affected by a lack of recycling; “about 2/3 of operating landfills do not have liners to protect groundwater and drinking water sources.” (Recycling Myths and Excuses). By reducing the number of recyclable goods that can contaminate the groundwater, the quality and safety of drinking water can be ensured. Additionally, incinerating recyclables “may cause respiratory illness, blacken buildings and kill plants…[emitting] hydrogen sulfide (which causes acid rain), carbon monoxide and several heavy metals” (Recycling Myths and Excuses). By reducing the number of recyclables in landfills, smaller amounts of poisonous gas are released into the environment, leading to higher health and a better environment. While recycling does not pay for itself yet, the energy and material savings paired with the environmental and health benefits outweigh the higher costs of recycling. Additionally, as the rate of recycling increases, the cost per ton decreases.

Can and bottle return services are a type of economic incentive already in place in many Eastern states. While there are places in Arizona, they are difficult to find and are only convenient if the person has multi-pound bags of cans. In Michigan, consumers pay ten extra cents for every can or bottle and, if returned to retail stores, can be redeemed for this charge. If not recycled, “75% to state for [environmental] programs, 25% to retailers” (Michigan). As Michigan had a redemption rate of 91.2% in 2017, the program appears to work well (Michigan). Like their enacted proposal, return stations for multiple recyclable goods could be placed in stores with money not returned to consumers used to fund the programs and/or donated to charities designed to protect the environment. Another way to increase the recycling rate in Tempe is to have an overabundance of bins along the street that would be sorted by volunteers on the weekend. These programs could allow students to get community service hours, providing an incentive for young individuals to join the cause. In Canada, a group has created the “Not Your Typical Cleanup Project [to focus on] creating ownership of the public spaces” (Pertab). By increasing the number of trash cans on the beach, they hope to reduce the amount of litter. Similarly, more bins would lead to more opportunities to recycle and instill responsibility. Unemployment rates would drop leading to a healthier economic market. In the European Union, “jobs from recycling grew 7% per year...between 2000 and 2007” (Zero Waste Creates Jobs). By increasing the amount of recycling, it is likely that jobs would also increase, leading to a more stable, healthy economy. Over 25 years, McDonald’s took small steps to reduce their waste. Through a series of solutions, they were able to “[eliminate] more than 300 million pounds of packaging, [recycle] 1 million tons of corrugated boxes and [reduce] waste by 30% in the decade following the partnership” (Packaging and Recycling| McDonald’s). Continuing this tradition of small steps toward a better future, by 2025, they plan to use “renewable, recycled, or certified sources” for all guest packaging and “recycle guest packaging in 100% of McDonald’s restaurants” (Packaging and Recycling| McDonald’s). Rather than a one-time, quick-fix solution, the company reduced its waste and increase their recycling habits in a series of small steps, allowing a more stable, long-lasting conversion. Not only are the companies who stand to profit from people who hold similar beliefs using stepping stone solutions to promote true change, Minnesota’s State Capital proposed a plan to increase their recycling rate from 70 percent. Like this proposed plan, the state government planned to use color-coded bins to allow for easy sorting of materials and to initiate training programs designed to teach workers how and why they should recycle. One surprising proposal they enacted was adding a recycling container next to every desk. They had discovered that trash found in “desk-side trash cans… made up more than 3,250 pounds of waste and accounted for a cost of about $16,000 per year” (Minnesota). What seems like a small, insignificant problem was found to be rather costly. Similarly, Tempe should enact a series of small changes in the form of more economic incentives, recycling opportunities, and volunteer service.

As a lack of recycling has been a major problem ever since the invention of single-use disposable products, many solutions have been proposed and enacted to solve the problem. One such measure used in many areas today is streamline recycling where individuals to place all their recyclables into one bin to be shipped to a sorting center While streamline recycling at a countywide or statewide level would solve the problem of incorrect recycling and would likely allow more access to services, its costs outweigh the benefits. Although it is easier for individuals to have a sorting center separate their recyclables, the process is more expensive and has “led to a decrease in quality of the materials recovered” (Laskow). Not only does it decrease the quality of materials, “the rates of "residuals"—would-be recyclables that end up in landfills— are also higher for single-stream recycling systems than for systems that require more sorting earlier on in the process” (Laskow). Enacted at a state or country level, streamline recycling leads to more waste and higher costs than traditional recycling without much benefit.

By narrowing this process to a city-level, volunteers could tackle the problem, leading to lower costs and lower amounts of contamination. Some people believe that recycling is too expensive to fund and not worth the added cost. While they are right that “the price of materials recovered from MSW does not cover the costs of separating and reprocessing, compared with virgin materials, and such operations usually require subsidy” (Smith et al.vi-vii), the benefits of recycling outweigh the costs. Not only does recycling reduce human and animal health risks, but it also saves energy and valuable resources for the future. Additionally, it decreases the amount of carbon added to the atmosphere, reducing the rate of global warming. Some people believe that “someone goes through the trash and pulls out the recyclables before it goes to the landfill” (Recycling Myths and Excuses). However, this is not the case; most trash does wind up in a landfill because sorting the products afterwards takes up too much time and energy. While some argue that a lack of recycling is less of a problem than an overproduction of plastic, an immediate large-scale solution to a complicated problem would likely have little benefit. Even though polls state that “74 percent of Americans think that the government should do ‘whatever it takes to protect the environment’” (Wilkins), many individuals would be annoyed when their favorite products are removed from the market because they were unable to limit their plastic use to accepted amounts. In Arizona, citizens had the opportunity to vote on Proposition 127 which would have “[mandated] that, irrespective of cost to consumers, 50% of the retail energy sales of these utilities come from certain types of renewable energy by” (Ballotpedia). It was soundly defeated, illustrating that not all Americans are willing to do whatever it takes to protect the environment. Drastic changes oftentimes lead to increased resistance, and many people side with companies. Even though it is true that an overabundance of single-use plastic products has a greater impact on the recycling rate, proposals designed to fix the problem at this stage have already failed multiple times. It is difficult to reverse policies that have been in place for decades that protect the producer rather than the environment. To prevent increased resistance, small changes such as this proposed solution will change people’s habits, allowing more drastic changes to occur in the future. One possible unforeseen negative consequence of this proposal may be a self-serving attitude in individuals. Rather than recycle for the good of the environment and the health of living organisms, people will expect monetary rewards for habits they should already have. However, the benefits of increased recycling rates are greater than the negative consequences of attitude in a few individuals. While individual citizens recycling habits have little effect on the recycling rate on a country level, a small step in the right direction will greatly impact the future.

Even though a lack of recycling may be attributed to poor habits of businesses and industry, a relatively small solution geared towards promoting good habits in individuals would likely lead to longer lasting change. Once individuals within a community begin to recycle, it would likely incentivize small businesses and schools to recycle more too. As the community changes their behavior, other organizations can change as well with little to no resistance. Through a series of small-scale changes, recycling rates can continue to increase leading to better health in humans, a decrease in the effect of mankind on wildlife, a smaller amount of global warming, and conservation of energy. When individuals make a series of small-steps together, a brighter future where college students do not have to go down fifteen floors to recycle a piece of paper nor whales starve to death from eating 88 pounds of plastic can be created.

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