One of the most fundamental principles of the natural world is that every action causes some sort of reaction. When you walk outside in the rain, you get wet. When you run your furnace, you end up spending money on fuel. Contemplating the cause-and-effect issue got us wondering how it applies to trash pickup, recycling, etc. Perhaps it's time for us to ask ourselves if curbside trash pickup actually encourages waste?
The roots of curbside pickup date back to the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, when people began moving into cities in larger numbers. Back in the day, people produced less trash and more organic waste. As early as the mid-19th century, cities employed workers to go around collecting human, animal, and food waste.
As for actual curbside trash pickup, it didn't become a large-scale enterprise until the early part of the 20th century. Prior to that, people either burned their trash, buried it on their own property, or took it to a municipal landfill. There are still some parts of the country that continue to operate the same way today.
Being More Careful with Trash
I lived in a small town in upstate New York many years ago. The town was so small that the houses didn't have numbers. Our 'address' was literally 'the second house from the corner on the southwest side, adjacent to the back of the fire department'. As you can imagine, there was no curbside trash pickup in that town. So what did residents do? We bagged are trash and drove it to the landfill.
Having come from a major municipality where curbside pickup was the norm, driving my trash to the landfill was an entirely new experience. It taught me to be more careful. The inconvenience of driving to the landfill made me realize that I had a tendency to needlessly throw things away. I became more reluctant to generate trash, which is something that remains with me more than 30 years later.
Making It Too Easy to Waste
There aren't any hard and fast numbers to prove whether curbside trash pickup encourages waste. But common sense seems to suggest that it does. By making it too easy to throw things away, we are also making it too easy to be careless about our trash. I know I was less careless when getting rid of the trash was harder.
Perhaps that's why disposable alkaline batteries are still so popular. We make it too easy to buy them, use them, and throw them away. Maybe if we made it harder, more people would opt for rechargeable batteries instead.
Come to think of it, we make it easy to waste a lot of things. Cheaper rates for municipal water make it too easy to let the tap run while we brush our teeth. Cheap consumer prices make it too easy to buy cheap plastic goods that we throw away rather than repair.
It is Something to Think About
There is no way to say for sure that curbside trash pickup encourages waste. But it is something to think about. It is something to think about because it is entirely possible. If we do waste more because getting rid of our trash is so easy and convenient, then one way to reduce waste would be to make disposing of it harder.
Eliminating curbside pickup is probably not practical in the modern world. But we could all still do a better job of being more thoughtful about what we throw away. Eliminating waste is worth it because doing so ultimately helps us all.