Take care of the goose

It’s a hot July day, and you’re dying for a drink. Hot, dry winds blast you as you head for the nearest vending machine where you purchase an icy cold drink to quench your thirst.

Once satisfied, you look for a place to discard the can, but there aren’t any recycling bins in sight. You can’t carry an empty can all day so you toss it in the regular trash. A momentary pang of guilt seizes you, but it’s gone as soon as it came. What’s one un-recycled can anyway?

Well, it’s just one more aluminum can added to all the other cans other people threw away thinking it was just one can that didn’t need to be recycled.

According to a recent report by the Container Recycling Institute, more than 1 trillion aluminum cans landed in our nation’s dumps and landfills between 1972 and 2003. The amount of aluminum wasted is enough to replace the world’s entire commercial airline fleet 3.6 times, the CRI claims.

What’s even more worrisome is that fewer Americans are recycling.

Two weeks ago, USA Today reported that recycling rates have stagnated or decreased in many communities across America. Even in a place like Seattle, a city that prides itself on its recycling program, recycling by residents of single-family homes fell by three percent, according to the article.

It gets worse: America’s aluminum can recycling rate was 44 percent in 2003, compared to 65 percent in 1992.

In the richest country in the world, our record is shameful, particularly compared to other industrialized countries like Sweden, which recycles 86 percent of its aluminum, Switzerland at 91 percent, Brazil at 87 percent and Japan with 85 percent.

So why are we recycling less than we used to, despite all the environmental and economic benefits?

According to CRI, some of the reasons are due to more people consuming beverages away from home and away from a convenient recycling bin. It also blames the lack of container deposit laws in most of the country.

Or it may just be that the public has become tired of the message or feels that recycling doesn’t make much difference.

The CRI statistics are something to consider each time we discard cans or bottles that can be recycled.

What can be done? There should be more public recycle bins available—especially in places crowds gather, like parks, malls and public spaces—conveniently placed and marked in a way to indicate what materials to put in it. Maybe more of us could carry reusable containers. In an area that claims to be "America’s Adventure Place," we really should emphasize taking care of our environment—the goose that lays the golden egg.