Think twice before tossing that plastic bottle in the trash. If
you live in Cleveland, it could cost you. Officials in that Ohio
city recently decided to track residents' recycling habits
using high-tech garbage cans. The bins are outfitted with
radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that monitor how
much people recycle. Under the new policy, waste collection
officials can search residents' trash if they suspect people
are not recycling enough. If residents throw away too many
recyclable items, they may be hit with a $100 fine.
Supporters say the policy will benefit the environment by
encouraging residents to recycle. They also say an increase
in recycling will make money for Cleveland. The city
currently pays about $30 per ton to haul trash to a landfill but
earns $26 per ton to take it to a recycling center. Charging
people who don't recycle enough could help defer
landfill costs as well.
Recycling: The Big Picture
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Recycling: Should it be
Trackin' trash: a Cleveland policy
stirs up a dirty debate
By Current Events, a Weekly Reader publication,
October 4, 2010
Cities Increasingly Turn to
'Trash Police' to Enforce
Does it make sense to recycle?
The short answer is: Yes.
True, some critics wonder whether
mandatory programs are a net benefit, since
they can require more trucks consuming
energy and belching carbon dioxide into the
“You don’t want a large truck carrying
around just a few bottles,” concedes
Matthew Hale, director of EPA’s Office of
Solid Waste. But, he notes, most cities are
getting better at reducing the environmental
costs of recycling. (They’re also working to
reduce the economic costs. Many recycling
programs still cost more to run than they
bring in when they sell the recyclable
materials back to manufacturers.)
Consider the true cost of a product over its
entire life—from harvesting the raw
Recycling: The Big Picture
By Tom Zeller Jr.
Published by National Geographic
materials to creating, consuming, and
disposing of it—and the scale tips
dramatically in recycling’s favor. Every
shrink-wrapped toy or tool or medical device
we buy bears the stamp of its energy-
intensive history: mountains of ore that have
been mined (bauxite, say, for aluminum
cans), coal plants and oil refineries, railcars,
assembly lines. A product’s true cost
includes greenhouse gases emitted in its
creation as well as use, and pollutants that
cause acid rain, smog, and fouled waterways.
Recycling—substituting scrap for virgin
materials—not only conserves natural
esources and reduces the amount of waste
that must be burned or buried, it also
reduces pollution and the demand for
energy. “You get tremendous Btu savings,”
In an international study published last year
by the Waste & Resources Action
Programme, a British group, researchers
compared more than 180 municipal waste
management systems. Recycling proved better
for the environment than burying or burning
waste in 83 percent of the cases.
It makes sense to reuse products, of course,
and to reduce consumption altogether, as well
as to improve initial product design. But given
the rising mounds of waste worldwide, it also
makes sense to recycle.
What Gets Recycled in the U.S.
It depends on the markets.
Whether or not a particular material is
recycled depends on a number of factors, but
the most fundamental question is this: Is there
a market for it? Markets for some materials,
like car batteries, are highly developed and
efficient—not least because strict regulations
govern their disposal—and a mature recycling
infrastructure has grown up as a result. About
90 percent of all lead-acid batteries are
recycled, according to the EPA. Steel recycling,
too, has been around for decades, while
formalized recycling of yard trimmings has
not. Despite the explosive growth of plastics—
particularly for use in beverage containers—
that industry has been slow to develop
recycling infrastructure, with most plastic still
going to incinerators or landfills.
Taking Charge of Discards
Higher hygiene standards, smaller
households, intense brand marketing, and the
rise of ready-made meals have all contributed
to an increase in packaging waste, but
international trade may be the biggest factor.
Even simple items like bottles of water now
routinely crisscross the globe, meaning that
thirst for a few swallows of “product” can
generate not just plastic bottles, but also a
large amount of other packaging debris—from
wrapping film to bin liners to shipping crates.
So far, Europe has led the world in recycling
packaging materials—principally through the
Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive of
1994. The EU directive calls for
manufacturers, retailers, and others in the
product chain to share the recycling burden.
With the exception of hazardous wastes, the
United States has been slower to embrace the
concept of “extended producer responsibility,”
as the idea is known, according to Bill
Sheehan, director of the Product Policy
Institute, a nonprofit research organization in
Athens, Georgia. Some municipalities,
however, are starting to demand that
businesses help cover the costs of recycling.
“Otherwise,” Sheehan says, we are “just
stimulating the production of more stuff.” ★
Continued from page 2
Beware the green police. They don't carry guns and there's no
police academy to train them, but if you don't recycle your
trash properly, they can walk up your driveway and give you a
They know what's in your trash, they know what you eat, they
know how often you bring your recycles to the curb -- and they
may be coming to your town soon. That is, if they're not
In a growing number of cities across the U.S., local
governments are placing computer chips in recycling bins to
collect data on refuse disposal, and then fining residents who
don't participate in recycling efforts and forcing others into
educational programs meant to instill respect for the
From Charlotte, N.C., to Cleveland, Ohio, from Boise, Idaho, to
Flint, Mich., the green police are spreading out. And that
alarms some privacy advocates who are asking: Should local
governments have the right to monitor how you divide your
paper cups from your plastic forks? Is that really the role of
In Dayton, Ohio, chips placed in recycle bins transmit
information to garbage trucks to keep track of whether
residents are recycling -- a program that incensed Arizona
Sen. John McCain, who pointed out that the city was awarded
half a million dollars in stimulus money for it.
Lack of Uniformity
There is currently no Federal
recycling law or mandate in the
United States. Individual states
and cities have paased their own
ordinances and laws governing
recycling. Some laws cover all
business and residential
establishments, while other
states have recycling laws only
affecting larger businesses.
What is regulated?
Depending on the state or city
there are varying degrees of
regulation for recycling. Some
cites like San Francisco require
residents to have separate bins
in blue, green and black color
meant for placing recyclable
materials, composts and trash
respectively. Other communities
allow citizens to place all
recyclable materials in a single
Cities Increasingly Turn
to 'Trash Police' to
Enforce Recycling Laws
By John Brandon / How Green /Published September 08,
Harry Lewis, a computer science professor
at Harvard University and a noted privacy
expert, cried foul about the "spy chips,"
which are already in use in several cities
and are often funded by government
stimulus programs. He noted that cattle
farmers use the same chips to tell if Betsy
the Cow has generated her milk quota for
"It's treating people like cattle!" Lewis cried.
Are people "supposed to produce
recyclable waste, rather than certain
quantities of milk"? What, he asked,
happens if you don't generate enough?
But there's a clear upside to the technology,
said Michael Kanellos, editor in chief of
"By tagging bins, haulers can weigh
garbage, and weighing brings
accountability. Consumers that diligently
recycle will likely become eligible for
rebates in some jurisdictions," he wrote
recently. "Conversely, those who throw
away excessive amounts of trash may face
steeper tariffs in the future ... recycling,
meanwhile, will go from being something
that gives the consumer peace of mind to a
way to reduce household bills."
Best and worse case scenarios
Dayton City Manager Thomas Ritchie said
the city is using the chips to aid marketing
campaigns, not to punish uncooperative
citizens. "The data will be used to identify
which residents participate in the recycling
program, at what rate do they participate
and the average weight of each
participant’s recycling," he said.
Charlotte, N.C., also uses trash tags, and it
gathers similar information. City spokeswoman
Charita Curtis said the city uses the data from
the tags -- low-power radio frequency IDs
(RFIDs) -- to find which areas aren't recycling
as often and to start education initiatives there.
The data is not shared outside of the city, she
stressed, and it's not used to track down
specific residents. The RFID program is also
“We can do targeted recycling education for
areas with low participation, providing
information on how to recycle, what can be
recycled, the importance of recycling to
encourage more recycling participation,” Curtis
said. “Some residents may not participate
simply because they don't know how to and
we'd provide that education in hopes that they
start recycling or recycle more.”
But there's no volunteering in Cleveland,
where the trash police can fine you $100 for
Cleveland will run reports on who fails to
recycle consistently, and then it will send out
the green cops, waste collection commissioner
Ronnie Owens told ABC News.
In late August, Cleveland's city council voted
to roll out the tags to 25,000 residents, and it
may extend the program to the entire city. It
costs $30 per ton to haul away trash, but the
city gets paid $26 per ton to recycle it. The
program should generate about $170,000
annually in revenue for the city, the
Washington Times reported.
But the new equipment and bins cost $2.5
million, so it will take about 15 years to recoup
the costs of deploying the technology.
Cleveland officials did not immediately
respond to requests for more information, but
reports indicate that officials will know when
you bring your trash to the curb -- and may go
through your trash to ensure you're recycling
Continued from page 4
Right to trash privacy
Privacy experts, meanwhile, are up in arms about how these chips are being used to collect data.
Lewis said Cleveland residents need to ask whether sacrificing their privacy -- having the
government snoop through their trash -- is worth the environmental benefit. If not, he said, they
should start a referendum to overthrow the ruling. Part of the issue, he said, is that the system is
easy to fool: A neighbor, he said, might dump your recycling into his bin to avoid fines.
The trash police could unfairly give the worst citizens a pass, Lewis added. He warned that those
generating the most waste by using bottled water instead of tap water (plastic water bottles are a
major source of trash) could earn credits for recycling all those wasteful bottles -- a reward for a
poor choice, in other words.
Mari Frank, a privacy expert and attorney, questioned the openness of the data. "It clearly looks
like the reason for the RFID is to collect money, but the privacy issues are paramount," she said.
"I believe these RFIDs are using technology to violate our Fourth Amendment rights of search and
seizure," she said. "The community should have the right to informed consent."
What comes next?
Lewis says the solution lies in improving education and awareness, not punishment. He said
economic incentives work for recycling -- getting money back for aluminum cans and newspapers
is a proven tactic.
Frank was skeptical about the future potential exploitation of the RFID trash collection data, and
questioned whether the next step might be to attach a GPS receiver to bins to see where residents
put them and how they are used. Lewis wondered whether a city might use trash collection data for
other, more invasive purposes.
"If the government wanted to know our drinking habits by neighborhood or household -- purely for
'public health reasons,' of course -- it could mandate RFIDs on liquor bottles and reprogram the
scanners to collect data on where the most vodka is being consumed," he said.
"And it's not just the government either. Suppose a major distiller went to your town and offered to
pay to collect data about who was throwing out which kinds of bottles. They might be prepared to
chip the bottles without being told they had to -- and your town might be able to use the new
revenue source to hold down its tax rate." ★
Continued from page 5
Continued from page 1
Other people, however, say the new policy stinks. They point
out that searching residents' garbage cans is an invasion of
privacy. They say officials have no right to search people's
trash without permission. Opponents say recycling should be
a personal choice, not a law.
Should city officials monitor residents' recycling habits?
Current Events student reporters Devon Robinson and
Tanner Rattray each threw out a side.
Tracking residents' recycling habits is a great idea. That will
inspire the people of Cleveland to recycle. The use of RFID
tags and possibly fining residents who don't recycle will
cause people to think twice about recycling. Debbie Pomfret,
a teacher in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., agrees. "Tracking
residents is a good thing because we are saving our
environment from excess emissions and overcrowded
landfills," she says.
If we don't begin taking drastic measures, such as tracking
residents' recycling habits and fining residents who don't
recycle, our entire world will be in peril. The less we recycle,
the quicker we fill landfills and the harder it is to find places to
bury garbage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. Some cities and states bum garbage, which is bad
for air quality. Cities may also pay huge fees to haul their
trash to other locations.
With the money it earns from its
new recycling policy, Cleveland
can begin eco-friendly projects,
such as a clean-air tree-planting
initiative, at local schools and
community centers. Those
projects can drastically improve
the environment, and people will
see the benefits of recycling.
Would you like it if officials knew what you threw away? or if
you were lined if you didn't recycle? Don't get me wrong; I am
The composts produced
by the mandatory
recycling programs is
used in organic soil and
sold for local farms and
vineyards. At each home
recycling food materials
into compost can be used
Plastic bags and other
products that cannot be
destroyed are harmful to
human beings, animals,
birds and fishes.
Recycling plastics not
only creates new products
but also keep them away
from land fillings and
thereby prevent injuring
the animals and other
Recycling steel creates a
new product, besides
decreasing the demand
for new mining of iron ore
and thereby a natural
resource is saved.
all about recycling, but this is just too far.
Officials have absolutely no right to know
what I get rid of or how often I get rid of it. It
is an invasion of privacy; Recycling is a
good thing, but it should not, under any
circumstances, become a law. Who knows?
Smaller families may not need to recycle as
often as others. They may not even use
recyclable materials at all!
Recycling should be a choice. Is it the right
choice to recycle? Of course[ But it is a little
extreme to make it a law. Jacob Boehlke, a
sixth grader from Mequon, Wis., agrees.
"People don't need to know how often I
recycle. That's up to me. Whatever
happened to my privacy rights?" he says.
Although recycling is a wonderful thing, how
often a person recycles should not be
monitored. Possibly getting fined for not
recycling crosses the line. I agree with
conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, who
describes the high-tech garbage cans as
nosy trash cans. "Yeah. It stinks," she
writes. "And taxpayers don't need any high-
falutin' technology to detect it."
Ask: Why might officials want to monitor
residents' recycling habits? What are some
of the advantages and disadvantages of
tracking how much people recycle?
Notes Behind the News
* In 2007, Cleveland launched a pilot
program for 15,000 households to test radio
frequency identification (RFID) tags on
recycling bins. In August, city officials voted
to extend the program to 25,000
households. Officials plan to expand the
policy to 25,000 additional households each
* The newest batch of RFID tags and bins
cost the city an estimated $2.5 million.
Despite the hefty price tag, Cleveland's
waste collection commissioner, Ronnie
Owens, says the benefits of the policy
outweigh the costs. He hopes the program
will encourage residents to recycle. "Instead
of throwing everything away, take one extra
step and put it in a different container," he
says. In 2009, Cleveland sent about 220,000
tons of trash to landfills and collected only
5,800 tons of recyclable materials.
* Some people say it is illegal for
waste collection officials to look
through people's trash.
Opponents say the new policy
violates the Fourth Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution, which
protects individuals against
"unreasonable searches and
* Cleveland is one of many cities
that use RFID "tags to monitor
how much people recycle. Others
include Charlotte, N.C.; Boise,
Idaho; and Alexandria, Va. Some cities,
such as New York and San Francisco, don't
use high-tech monitoring systems, but they
do fine residents who violate recycling laws.
Other cities, such as Chicago, Phoenix, and
Houston, use an incentive program that
rewards people for recycling. Those cities
participate in a program known as
RecycleBank, in which people are given
points based on how much they recycle.
Those points then translate into coupons to
use at local stores. ★
Should governments have the power to
make recycling mandatory for their
residents? Is it against people’s right
to privacy to have RFID tags in their
trash or to have “green police” to
search through their trash in order to
enforce laws? Or is this an acceptable
way to help save the environment?
Explain your answer.
The Big Question
[Issue] :: [Date]
1. Establish a position: Decide what your opinion is. Are you for or
against mandatory recycling?
2. Create a thesis statement: Make a claim and include several key
facts to support your claim.
3. Identify Supporting Evidence: What evidence supports your
claim? Use specific evidence and cite where you found it.
4. Consider alternatives: What is the counter argument? How will
you defend against an opposing viewpoint?
5. Include a Conclusion: Wrap-up your argument. Restate your
claim and summarize briefly any important ideas. Ask readers to
6. Revise and Edit: Does your essay follow guidelines given? Did
you check the rubric?