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Huge fines may not be best recycling spur

Massive fines for failing to recycle may not be the spur needed to get local authorities and the general public involved with collecting increasing amounts.

This is the implication from the USA, where landfill space is abundant and cheap, energy from waste is virtually unheard of, yet the nation still returns an average municipal solid waste diversion rate of 32%.

What makes this figure all the more impressive is the fact that combustion [which accounts for only 20% of disposal] is not counted as diversion, mechanical biological treatment is not widely used and each of the US states and territories are allowed to set their own waste diversion targets.

New York City Department of Sanitation senior policy analyst Samantha MacBride suggests that while the USA has a spirit of competitiveness, localities neither know nor care what their neighbours are achieving. A situation that is quite different to the UK.

Naming and shaming worst performers is a tactic employed here, but evidence from over the Atlantic Ocean suggests that putting environmental concerns in the mindset of people over a long period of time may have a far more positive effect.

MacBride said: Overall, the US experience in recycling can only be explained by looking at the history of its political culture.

During the 1970s a series of environmental disasters, the energy crisis and landmark publications on the dangers of chemicals combined to spur widespread environmental concern.

Almost as quickly, local, voluntary recycling programmes began to form which slowly became institutionalised as municipal services throughout the 1980s. These were strengthened by a growing distrust of waste to energy facilities and to a lesser extent sanitary landfills, coalescing in the 1990s as citizens movements seeking social and environmental justice gained strength.

It seems then that the USAs recycling framework has been developing for the past 30 years, but with a number of UK authorities only now taking the situation seriously, it remains to be seen if 2010 will prove too soon to get the practice fully into the publics mindset here.
Read Samantha MacBride's full article on waste management comparisons between the UK and USA which will appear in MRW soon



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