Big Brother is watching you, especially if you live in San Francisco. Although city residents are required by law to sort their trash into three different bins (landfill, compost, and recycling), those who incorrectly dispose of garbage could be subject to a $1,000 fine. Or at least, that was the original proposal.
As the city transitions to a no-waste system by 2020, residents are now being incentivized to reduce their landfill-destined waste. Under the new proposal, described in The Atlantic Cities recent article San Francisco's Trash Inspectors Get Up Earlier Than You Do, “compost and recycling would no longer be free, but people who opt to downsize their black trash bin would pay a reduced fee.”
The issue, as I noted in my post two weeks ago, is that plastics recycling can be confusing even to professionals, so how can we honestly expect consumers to understand and navigate the seven tiered system?
The chasing arrows symbols denote different plastic types, all with different recycling requirements (See the National Geographic article "7 Things You Didn’t Know About Plastic (and Recycling)"), but often these distinctions can be vague and are often further complicated by contamination questions. For example, how many times have you purchased a soda from the machine and wondered, “Can I recycle this since it has a label?”
The city of San Francisco is combating this problem through education. While the city transitions to a no-waste model, waste auditors patrol the streets at an ungodly hour, just a few blocks ahead of the garbage trucks, and re-sort each household’s trash. Those who have incorrectly sorted are marked down, and the auditors return later in the afternoon with pamphlets and brochures to help educate residents about proper recycling procedures.
While San Francisco’s initiative is innovative and potentially effective, the plastics manufacturing industry can also play a part by simplifying the system. With so much confusion, some of the responsibility falls back on us to make the consumer’s job easier.
One way we have done this at TEQ is with distortion printing – a process that allows us to print the design and label directly onto plastic. This practice helps clear up the soda bottle conundrum. With no additional label, it makes the product easily recyclable without raising questions about contamination.
What do you think about education vs. simplification? Do you have any solutions for simplifying our recycling system? Let us know in the comments.