The Benefits of Compulsory Recycling Programs

Question Everything: Should recycling be mandatory?
Getty Images; Illustration by Kirsten Salyer for TIME

The Seattle mayor explains how the city helps save the environment—and landfill costs

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Seattle launched city-wide recycling 25 years ago. First, we banned yard trimmings from garbage, metal from yard waste, and garbage from recycling. For more than a decade, we have required paper and bottle recycling. And after finding that tons of food waste was still going into the garbage, last year we launched a composting program to require residents to recycle food waste, too.

Despite skepticism from cynics around the country, the people of Seattle overwhelmingly support food waste recycling. And they are putting their commitment to composting into action. By year’s end, we will have recycled 11,000 additional tons of organic material—the equivalent of 220 rail cars—that otherwise would go to a landfill.

Yes, we recycle because it speaks to our community’s values to protect the environment. But by cutting in half the volume of all trash going to the landfill—Seattle recycles over 400,000 tons a year—we reap another green benefit: Our city has saved $200 million in landfill costs over the past 15 years. Seattle’s approach to recycling might not be right for every city, but it works for us.

I take three cans to the curb every week: a large green recycling bin, a food and yard waste bin and a small garbage can. For each family, it takes just a little effort. By working together, we can make a big difference.

Ed Murray is the mayor of Seattle.

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