sorting waste in the USA

Sorting It Out: The Revolution of Waste Management in the USA

Even in business, waste sorting appears in the top 5 eco-gestures adopted by employees, alongside two preventive actions (reducing printing, avoiding single-use objects).

But sorting is also carried out for environmental reasons for waste other than packaging and paper. In a 2021 study, Americans declared that they managed their kitchen waste and green waste (via composting, sorting for collection, animal feed, etc.) primarily for environmental reasons.

More generally, we can wonder about the reasons which lead respondents to place waste as the number one answer for actions limiting climate damage when their impact represents a drop in the bucket on greenhouse gas emissions in the USA, a major source of climate change which has become the number one environmental concern of US residents.

How does transport come in second place in this great debate when it represents 39% of national GHG emissions according to the EPA?. This same climate change is however placed by 27% of contributors as the most important environmental problem.

How to explain this 1st place

Have Americans internalized government communication making individual responsibility a major axis of the ecological transition even though our impact is limited? or is it still the frequency of the sorting action that allows each sorter to carry out a concrete, palpable ecological act? or is it because selective collections are the only innovations (in the environmental field) which are imposed on a majority of inhabitants?

Again, is it the techniques of seduction, the charms of packaging that are ever greener, as waste management specialists convince us to be eco-friendly. Probably a bit of all that, with important communication. A statement repeated a sufficient number of times in public discourse ends up being integrated as true by everyone. Communication, the art of repetition, has partly made us place sorting as the supreme eco-friendly gesture.

However, waste prevention has more benefits for the climate than recycling on a global scale. In addition, the environmental reports on recycling are imperfect, for example, it does not take into account the pollution caused by the numerous industrial accidents in the waste sector.

You have surely understood that sorting for recycling enjoys a place in the sun in our minds, sometimes a responsible gesture, sometimes a supreme ecological gesture, even though residents hire a lot of dumpster rentals to discard junk in bulk. Its place has also been made in our economy, tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs are now linked to recycling. This pedestal created, reinforced and acquired gradually since the 1990s in particular, is difficult to call into question. However, attempts are increasing to shake up the established order for the benefit of waste prevention.

Waste management communication efforts increasingly mistreated

In Germany, the BVSE (Bundesverband Sekundärrohstoffe und Entsorgung) recently declared that to cope with environmental pressures, recycling will not be enough. If the criticism comes from the heart of the industrial recycling sector in Germany, in France criticism of recycling seems to be growing externally within civil society. ONGs know this, and are communicating to slow down change and restore the image of recycling which has been crumbling since the 1990s and 2000s.

Faced with the emergency, the question of the acceptability of the current recycling system is raised. Indeed, the ranks of critics of recycling as a way of saving waste are growing. The attacks are cracking the image of recycling.

To resolve these criticisms, waste management experts invite us to improve recycling, to adapt, and not to oppose prevention and recycling. The answers are more in the direction of small steps than big transformation. We can read there delaying intentions so as not to initiate the profound change that our society needs to finally reduce its waste consistently and quickly.

We can see the “3D” 17 used by lobbies, the D for delay so as not to disrupt the current dominant system too much. The complementarity mentioned by EPA experts is a message repeated by eco-organizations. For example, to generate new behaviors, we must support the American people in their consumption choices: inform, and prove that recycling is complementary to waste reduction and reuse.

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