Who or what drives changes in the waste/recycling industry?Greetings to all you recycling enthusiasts! I want to thank all of you who have contacted us with your questions and comments.
By: By Steve/‘The Recycle Guy’ Christen, Superior Telegram
Greetings to all you recycling enthusiasts! I want to thank all of you who have contacted us with your questions and comments. It helps a lot when picking topics for this monthly column! The topics of change came up recently – what will the recycling and waste industry look like in the next five years?
In order to answer this question, we must look at what drives change. What causes an industry to change the way they provide necessary service to a community? Change comes when consumers or customers demand it! Left to our own accord, the waste industry (and just about all other industries for that matter) resists change because it causes a problem on a number of different fronts. Looking at what has brought changes in the past to the waste/recycling industry will give us a glimpse into the future.
We can all remember the days when we bought our own garbage cans. We went to the local hardware store where they had a stack of aluminum garbage cans as high as Mt. McKinley. The old man bought two, took them home and set them behind the garage in the alley. Within a month, they were dented, crushed, with lids missing and rolling down the alley anytime the wind blew. Today however, the city issues all residents a 90-gallon cart. These carts are on wheels, so you can drag them around the yard more easily. These carts are made out of recycled plastic so they don’t dent and they are of a square design so they don’t roll away in the wind.
Now on the surface it would appear that someone in the industry had a brain storm. Or, someone had seen all the issues with the old garbage cans and set out to solve them. In doing so, this person changed the paradigm of what residential refuse collection looks like today. In reality, this change came about because OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Association) demanded that the industry solve a problem. You see, back in the day when we had garbage cans, the collectors had to get out of their trucks, walk to the back and dump the two cans by hand. Well you can only imagine that if you do this 600 times a day, you begin to look for a way to minimize your steps. So, rather than pick the can up and dump it, they would reach in and pull out the plastic bags and toss them into the back of the truck. When the bags were on the heavy side, it was a common practice for the guys to use their knees to boost the bags up to the truck hopper. Starting in the late ’70s and early ’80s more and more collection workers were getting stuck by medical needles that were used in either recreational drug use or home medication applications. With AIDS and other blood borne diseases on the increase the industry was told by OSHA to protect their workers or face increased fines.
The result of having to take action is the carts that you now have at your house. Note that these carts are picked up and dumped by a mechanical arm on the truck. The driver in most cases doesn’t have to get out of the truck! Note also that your garbage man is no longer the big muscle bound man who would make you run due to the smell that was aromatically flowing from him. Now a diminutive woman can run a collection vehicle. These carts are neater and easier for the customer to use. The point I am trying to make here is that change comes from outside the industry, not from within. It’s you the customer, the consumer who will drive change in the future by demanding more safe and environmentally sound changes. Your actions will dictate the changes we see. It’s not enough to just put recycling out every week and then not buy goods or commodities that don’t have some sort of recycling content in them. When you speak up and ask for change, be willing to “buy in to it” also. Often times change brings new people and companies to the plate and eliminates the old. Companies and people who don’t change are facing the same destiny that buggy whip makers experienced when Henry Fort started using an assembly line to manufacture cars.
My call to action this month would be for you to make your wishes and desires known. Be willing to participate in the change. The industry will change when you demand that we do so. So, by demanding that the industry come up with a laser gun to evaporate garbage instead of picking it up in trucks and going to the landfill, could that be our future? Well maybe not right away, but then 10 years ago who would have thought that technology for the iPhone was just around the corner?
Keep your thoughts and comments coming to email@example.com!