Recycling apathy doesn't bode well for green tech habits

Summary:When my sister-in-law’s father passed away a couple of years ago, I went out to Pennsylvania for the service and stopped by her home, which has been in the family for years. The piles of paper throughout the house reminded how many of us still have the hording instinct, saving things interminably when we haven’t used them for years.

When my sister-in-law’s father passed away a couple of years ago, I went out to Pennsylvania for the service and stopped by her home, which has been in the family for years. The piles of paper throughout the house reminded how many of us still have the hording instinct, saving things interminably when we haven’t used them for years.

Now I’m not condoning a disposable society, but I remembered this incident as I pondered the weird relationship Americans have with trash.

In Hawaii, for example, where space is shall we say limited, they make it so hard to recycle that most places people simply don’t even try. My mother, who was at least a medium shade of green when she lived in Washington and California, finds this highly annoying. And strange.

Of course this is the state that charges up to 33 cents per kilowatt of electricity, which is I think the highest in the nation. Apparently, there is all sorts of controversy over the aesthetics of alternative energy. But that is a subject for another blog.

Given this backdrop, I suppose I wasn’t surprised to hear that about 23 percent of all Americans aren’t into recycling yet, according to a recent Harris Interactive poll.

Astonishingly, younger Americans aged 18 to 20 (the Echo Boomers) were more likely NOT to recycle anything, compared with 19 percent for Matures (people older than 62). Does this surprise anyone out there?

Those on the east and west coasts were more likely to recycle than those in the Midwest or South, according to the Harris Interactive poll.

People are more likely recycle aluminum or metal cans (hmmm, is that because some places still pay you to collect them?) than they were to do anything with paper or plastic or glass.

The Harris Interactive poll found that there are all sorts of reasons people don’t recycle. For some, the service isn’t available, while others say it takes too much effort and costs them more money to recycle as opposed to using traditional disposal methods. About 10 percent believe recycling doesn’t make a difference.

So, how much hope do electronics recycling programs have?

Certainly, the fact that certain states have passed laws banning improper disposal of everything from monitors to CPUs to printers is a good one. Although I’m never one to favor the stick as the method for changing behavior patterns. And, honestly, how many people really understand what the regulations are in their home state? It took me all sorts of effort to figure out how to get rid of my old desktop computer just one year ago.

Here’s a rundown of what apparently is currently on the books as far as recycling laws that cover electronics.

I personally favor the carrot approach being adopted by some of the computer manufacturers, many of which have started offering discounts of new purchases for taking trade-ins of the old. (Kind of like when you buy a new car.) Refurbishment or redeployment are options that are looking increasingly viable, which sort of makes the case for better lifecycle management strategies in general.

From the looks of things, there definitely will need to be some sort of impetus like this in order to get the habit kick-started.

Topics: Emerging Tech

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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