Recycling redux

A neighbor questioned my post about the city's criminalization of informal collection of curbside recycling, saying that the program is harmed when it has to buy what's informally collected instead of getting it "for free." Would the overall cost of collecting recycling be less if it was left to the informal sector entirely? I realize that's a step that for a variety of reasons would be really hard for a formal, city-connected organization to take. It would take an act of social imagination, in other words. What I object to is the criminalization of the informal sector implied by the city's "ownership" of recycling when it's placed on the street. My neighbor said that this is not enforced, but it could be, which strikes me as an ethical failure. The photo above is a reminder that informality is the way of the (perpetually unbalanced) world. I also heard a relevant quote: "The typically modern practice is the effort to exterminate ambivalence." (Jeremy Till, citing or quoting Zygmunt Bauman).


  1. "Would the overall cost of collecting recycling be less if it was left to the informal sector entirely?"

    Undoubtedly it would. For one thing, the simple cost of transporting the materials to the recycling centers would devolve upon the collectors' shoulders instead of remaining as a burden on the city's recycling budgets.

    Leaving this to the informal sector, however, creates certain practical difficulties, not the least of which is the unreliable nature of collections.
    In Santa Monica, CA, where I live, we face the same challenges: there is a substantial "informal sector" that raids the collection bins and sells the findings to the city, leaving, at the same time, less-desirable recyclable materials strewn across the alleys and sidewalks for someone else to clean up.

    Indeed this reflects a failure of the collective, civic imagination–especially in a place such as Santa Monica. The practical aspects of such a mental leap, however, would need to be left in the hands of our city staff, and they are already intellectually burdened beyond their capacity to deliver.


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