I ate lunch last week at a local joint where diners are supposed to bus their own dishes, separating silverware, trash, and plates. This I was dutifully doing when I noticed some signage encouraging me to separate recyclables, too.
The sign said the restaurant’s plastic cups and dishes could be recycled. But those items dotted the trash can. Why? The recycling bin was hidden underneath the bus tub, while the garbage was easily at hand. Anyone who wasn’t paying full attention, or didn’t care that much, wasn’t gonna recycle squat.
Ergonomics matter. You can’t bring your own bags to the grocery store if you keep forgetting them at home because they’re stored in an inconvenient place. Far better they live in the car. You won’t compost the core of the apple you eat at work if you have to schlep it back home to a compost bin. (Well, actually I do that all the time, but I have a high tolerance for organic matter in my purse.)
More to the point, people (as in “the public”) won’t improve their habits if businesses and institutions make it difficult or counterintuitive to do the right thing. I love the green recycling bins on the Downtown Mall, but how come they’re less numerous than the black garbage bins? What’s the message there?
Then again, we’re talking about individual choices. At a workshop I took recently, a fellow student who also happened to be a farmer noticed that people were throwing away food scraps. She announced that she’d take that valuable stuff home to her pigs, then provided a bag. If only all systems were that quickly improved.