In a world where plastic fills our homes as well as our oceans, recycling is important now more than ever in order to sustain healthy living conditions for us, as well as the creatures we share this world with. The question we ask now is, how do we get people to recycle their wastes? Some countries have decided to offer people an incentive for recycling. When a state offers monetary incentive for the reciprocity of recycling, we notice high recycling rates from poorer communities.
For some, recycling is the base of their income. In a study done by Martin Medina in 2000, he found that a total of 2% of the urban population in Asia and Latin America depend on recycling to survive. The informal sector is high within these countries, specifically in Latin America where 130 million people are apart of this informal workplace. When we single out larger countries like Brazil we can see how greatly recycling is a necessity for survival. Catadores, the informal recyclers in Brazil, contribute to 90% of the cities recycling in exchange for money (The Guardian, 2017). The Catadores do this work informally, as the city refuses to accept them as municipal employees even though, without them, the city collects less than 2% of the recyclable items.
We see a similar trend in China, who is responsible for a third of the plastic waste polluting the ocean. In a large country like China, who has difficulty managing the waste that they distribute, they welcome informal workers who earn a living through recycling. Most of these workers are migrants who prefer to be discrete with their work in order to avoid taxation. The China Business review states that ¨it is estimated that these informal workers collect over 90% of the recycled bottles in Beijing”. That would be 10% short of all recycled bottles and for a country who, in 2011 was the world´s largest plastic producer in the world, these informal recyclers hold a large responsibility for keeping plastic out of the ocean.
Now, we look at a country who has an actual system in place for informal workers to make money off of recycling, Germany. ¨PFAND¨ is what they call it, where people take their empty plastic bottles to a machine (usually near a supermarket) and exchange the bottles for money. Although they have to pay an extra amount upon purchasing these bottles, the system still ultimately benefits the people when exchanging them in. With this being said, the poor communities reap a larger benefit as they usually collect the bottles off of the street and don´t purchase them in the stores. So, Germany creating a system easy enough for all people to use (but has become a main source of income for their poor) has resulted in Germany leading the world as the planets top recycler, as they recycle 65% of their waste as of 2013.
The United States has the same system in place, where again, people can take their empty plastic bottles to a machine, usually near a supermarket and exchange the plastic for money. Poorer communities take great advantage of this easy made system, as it provides a simple procedure that all can follow. Take San Bernardino, California for example, a poor city located in the Southern part of the state; California has an overall persons in poverty rate of 14.3%, according to the 2016 Census and San Bernardino has a 17.6% rate, the high poverty rate within the community, compared to the rest of the state, has resulted in many homeless people to take up the duty of recycling in exchange for money. In 2015, San Bernardino was offered the Outstanding Recycler Award, as the CalRecycle program will not release percentage of people recycling for monetary incentive until 2019, the award proves the high rates of recycling within the city. This simple system has assisted the United States in recycling 35% of their total waste and the country only expects that number to grow.
If setting up an easy system for communities to effectively recycle their waste (while also helping the poorest communities) has resulted in positive results, why have all countries not yet done so?
Spain has color coded trash bins that help the people easily recycle their trash but still recycle less that 30% of their overall waste. In 2012, 21% of people were living in poverty in Spain, so perhaps offering an incentive for recycling will motivate the communities in poverty to obtain an informal living through recycling, while also increasing the percentage of their waste recycled.
Brazil and China already have a large amount of informal workers recycling and if they placed an organized bottle system in place for these communities, it seems obvious that the countries could benefit even more. When a country helps mandate the process of recycling for the informal sector, the system becomes more efficient which results in more bottles being recycled.
Overall not only will the poorer communities benefit economically, the world as a whole will be limiting the waste ending up in the ocean while also using these same bottles to create new items. Targeting poorer communities to recycle in exchange for money helps these people avoid panhandling and instead focus on an informal sector of recycling. Once governments welcome these informal sectors as a benefit for the community as a whole, the incentive for recycling will prove to be highly effective, especially within these poorer communities.