Hoosiers need to do better job recycling

I had the pleasure of hosting the Engage Columbus group at the Bartholomew County Recycling Center in August. I enjoy talking to school groups and showing them what we do at the Recycling Center, but this was my first time giving a tour to a group of only adults and new to the community.

It was so much fun. I learned as much, if not more, from this group as they learned about what we do at the Recycling Center.

The people who attended the Engage Columbus tour have lived all over the United States and the world. They shared with me some of their experiences with recycling in various states and countries. This led me to wonder and explore what other countries or states do to recycle and reduce waste.

Many countries do not make recycling an option for the people living there. Laws and incentives are used to ensure that people recycle and reduce their waste as much as possible. In most European countries reducing waste and recycling have been mandated since the 1990s.

In Germany it is required to sort garbage items (glass, plastics, paper) at home. The separate bins are picked up at curbside or a neighborhood has communal separation bins to use. Germany has also instituted the “Green Dot” program for manufacturers. Manufacturers pay a fee or tax for the amount of packaging they use for their products. This program has put packaging on a diet. The more package material the more the company pays in the “Green Dot” program.

India is a country where very little goes to waste. However, with the large population even a little waste per household ads up to huge landfills. In India there is little, if any, government involvement in household garbage disposal. Independent contractors or businesses provide garbage disposal services. In Delhi, the capital of India, this creates jobs for 150,000 people, according to recyclinginternational.com. In Delhi only 5 percent of homes have a formal garbage removal system. Yet, by independent contractors picking up recyclables such as newspapers, or glass, 59 percent of garbage is recycled. India has implemented a law that says electronics manufacturers must provide a “take back” opportunity to ensure unwanted electronics are recycled.

In the United States recycling policies vary by state. There are a variety of reasons why states are so different when it comes to their recycling programs. However, much of it boils down to government mandates and incentives. I looked for the states that did the best job at recycling. The website waste360.com listed the best and worst states at waste diversion. One could argue that waste diversion (waste not going into a landfill) is not the same as recycling, but it is the closest information that I could find.

The top five states at waste diversion are:

1. Vermont

2. Oregon

3. New York

4. Minnesota

5. Massachusetts

The worst five states at waste diversion:

46. Alabama

47. Indiana

48. Kentucky

49. Texas

50. Louisiana

When looking at this list and thinking about European countries, it seems to me that the more people who are living in a small area, the better they do at waste diversion. The top five states are highly populated (except Minnesota) per square mile. Whereas the bottom five states have fewer people and more square miles, which means less trash and more places to put it.

This is not good news for those of us here in Indiana who want to do a better job at recycling and diverting waste from our landfill. But many Hoosiers are competitive. Perhaps seeing our ranking at 47 out of 50 will motivate more people to think about the trash they generate and what they are going to do about it.

To help motivate people to do something, here are some recycling facts from dosomething.org:

The average person generates more than 4 pounds of trash every day and about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year.

Americans make more than 200 million tons of garbage each year, enough to fill Busch Stadium (home of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team) from top to bottom twice a day. Next time you’re at a sporting event or tailgate, host a trash-free tailgate using only recyclable materials.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 75 percent of the American waste stream is recyclable, but we only recycle about 30 percent of it.

We generate 21.5 million tons of food waste each year. If we composted that food, it would reduce the same amount of greenhouse gas as taking 2 million cars off the road.

Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on your iPod. Recycling 100 cans could light your bedroom for two whole weeks.

For more information about local recycling options visit our website at bcswmd.com. And don’t forget to check out our Facebook page by searching for Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District.