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They’re Coming. Are You Ready? Part 1

The class of 2015 is almost upon us (the year in which the entering 1st year class will graduate from a traditional 4-year college).

Some of you are familiar with the annual Beloit Mindset List. If you are over the age of 30, it is an incredible tool to make you feel very old. If you are over the age of 30 and work with College students, it is a valuable tool to help you understand the frame of reference of the students with whom you are working.

The implications of this mindset go far beyond campus recyclers. If you are a municipal recycler, these are your future residents. If you are a resort or club, these are your next guests and members. If you are a business, these are your upcoming customers.

To give you some perspective about these people that will be impacting your life, the following are true during their lifetime:

  • A traditional-aged incoming student (18 years old or nearly 18 years old) was born in 1993.
  • Bill Clinton was already President the year they were born, and out of office before they entered third grade.
  • John McEnroe has never played professional tennis.
  • Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always sat on the Supreme Court.
  • There has never been an East Germany, or a Berlin Wall – except in the history books.
  • Izzy Stradlin and Steven Adler have never been part of Guns-N-Roses. Slash and Duff had also split the band before they were in kindergarten.

Why do I bring all this up in a recycling blog? Is it just to make you feel old? Actually not. I bring it up because I think all this fundamentally changes the way we need to talk about and promote recycling.

Most current recycling programs have their roots in the “landfill crisis” of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The “galvanizing moment” of that era was the Mobro garbage barge. As the barge made its fateful journey all along the east coast looking for a place to dump its load of trash, it ushered in a new era of recycling based on a “landfill crisis.” That landfill crisis is still the basis for how most recycling programs are promoted and measured today. How do most programs measure success? – By how well we divert stuff out of the landfill. What is the primary motivator used by most recycling promotions? – Recycle, it keeps stuff out of the landfill.

Here’s the thing though: times have changed and I think our programs need to change, too. It’s 2011. This year’s incoming class of 1st year college students was born 6 years after the Mobro Garbage Barge incident. That event is such ancient history to them, you might as well be talking about the Lincoln assassination.

Many of these incoming students have never known of a town dump or landfill in their municipality. For most of them, trash has always been sent far away to a large regional facility.

They were still in diapers when the Supreme Court passed the Carbone vs. Clarkstown decision that forever altered flow control legislation and landfill logistics in the United States.

When I started in this field prior to the Carbone decision, most landfills in many parts of the U.S. were municipal landfills, the evolution of the old town dump. Most of those were financed via flow control legislation – legislation that required all trash within a jurisdiction to be dumped at that jurisdiction’s landfill. Cities and towns could issue bonds to build new landfills because their flow control legislation guaranteed them the tonnage coming into the landfill that they needed to pay off the bond. Everything changed when the Carbone decision struck down flow control. Without the ability to guarantee their tonnage, bond funding became less viable for municipal landfills and most municipalities got out of the landfill when their existing landfill was finally full. That has given way to a network of “super sized” regional and national landfills to which trash is shipped from several states away. The result is that landfills have truly become out of sight, out of mind.

The bottom line is that things have changed a lot since many of our recycling programs were first developed. If you are promoting your program based on a 1989 model, are you doing yourself a disservice? If the success of your program is being measured based on how well you are keeping stuff out of the town dump, but you haven’t had a town dump for decades, isn’t this something you should think about updating?

The class of 2015 is coming. Are you ready for them?

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Roger Guzowski

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