Blame Architects for America’s poor recycling habits

Blame Architects for America’s poor recycling habits

According to articles I recently read, only 50% of Americans recycle on a regular basis.  No matter how much education is done, how many pleads from the tree huggers out there. I don’t care if environmentalist start strapping dynamite to themselves, it is not going to change. I have a theory I would like to share.

Blame the architects.

What? Is this some strange vengeance I have on a noble profession?  Do I blame the architect who designed my house for the leaky roof…for the thousands of damage that was done to our wood floors?  No, that was the cheap builder who skimped on ice&snow water shield on the roof.  The architect did a great job.  I do blame the architect for me not wanting to recycle.  Here is why.

Until I have a walking-talking robotic assistant in my home. (I will line up faster than for an iPad II).  I will not be as likely to recycle as much as I should.  Again…why?

It is not easy.  The majority of what could be recycled goes into through the kitchen of the home.  Glass, plastics, paper, food wrappings, etc.  What does your kitchen garbage look like?  Here is mine:

It is tiny. It is not well thought out.  It is too small for a house our size. (2 Adults, 4 children and a 180 pound dog).   It is the same size as houses that are 1/2 or apartments that are 1/4 my house size.   The design is made for throwing everything in 2 bins. Bin #1 put all the recyclables and bin #2 everything else.  The recycle bin includes everything, glass, cardboard, cans, plastic, all put together.  When I was a child in the 1970′s, we had one bin.  No recycling.  Somewhere along the way someone felt warm and fuzzy about themselves and added bin #2 as a recycling bin.  It is not much better than the 1970′s.  It is inadequate.  Whose fault is it?

Blame the architect!

For me to recycle, the current configuration is not optimal.  The “recycle” bin fills up too quick and spill over happens.  Pick up my 1 year old and teach her colors or separate trash?  An extra minute reading with my 7 year old daughter or separate trash before the garbage truck comes on Friday?

The reality is that the typical design of the American home makes us trash separators vs. recyclers.  I have no problem with recycling, but if I have to be trash separator, I probably won’t do it. For high adoption a task needs to be simple.  I learned this by watching sales people use a CRM software system.  Human nature.  If it is harder than it should be, people won’t do it.  Make it simple and you will get high adoption.

The answer to the problem is simple.  Design houses with appropriate space so each major type of trash needs to be thrown out one time.  No trash separation.  Simple.  The effects on the entire industry could cascade.

Don’t the local landfills separate trash?  Maybe on inspection day.  Take a look a what is inside most garbage bags.  Cans, bottles, plastics, newspapers, etc.  Things that should be recycled are not being recycled.  I think that the 50% of Americans recycle article is actually bullshit!  I would like to see how they collected the data.  From personal observation…50% is way too high.

What if architects got with the program?

  • Homes and businesses would be designed for “one-toss” recycling.  No separating it after you throw it out the first time.
  • The size of the recycle area would be associated with the size of the house.  They do this for septic systems… and it is part of the local code.  Why not trash?
  • Garbage services should give you larger recycle containers.  We requested a larger one from our provider…so we could recycle… and they denied it!  The thing we have is too small for our family.
  • If the stuff was already separated, the recycling centers would have an easier time of it.
  • Not every type of garbage would have to be picked up every week.

Let’s so Architects,  make a stand.  Come up with an elegant solution.

Donato Diorio
March 2011