If we want to be recycling activists, the most effective "simple thing" we can do is push our local governments to buy supplies made from recycled materials.
Think about it: You can collect all the bottles and newspapers you want, but if no manufacturers use them in their products, your efforts are wasted.
So we have to create a market for recycled products. Each of us can and should buy them whenever possible. But each of us only has limited purchasing power.
Government, on the other hand, has real economic clout. Every year, state and local governments buy nearly $80 billion worth of products -- about 13 percent of the gross national product. If even a fraction of this was spent on recycled items, it would have a huge impact. Not only would resources be saved and dTC pollution reduced, but the market for recycled products would suddenly open wide.
Right now, one of the biggest consumer complaints about recycled goods is that they often cost more than non-recycled products. But if governments switch to recycled goods, suppliers will have to increase their production to meet the demand. As a result, recycled goods will become more affordable, giving everyone a chance to make the switch.
That's why it's important to push your local government to make the "recycled" commitment. Here's what you can do about it:
* Call people at the mayor's office and ask them about their buying policies. As David Loveland, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition, puts it: "If every citizen around the country called his or her mayor's office and said, "Listen, when are you doing to buy recycled materials?" we'd see some real action. Mayor's offices have to be responsive. You can bet that if they get a few calls asking about it, they'll pay attention. In fact, if you have the time, write a letter. It always impresses politicians to see that you took the time to address you own envelope and lick the stamp."
* Use this column as a tool to support your efforts: If you have problems with local officials or if they seem uninterested, write to I'll print your letter, then call them for comment. Or if you get cooperation, we'll give the "good guys" the recognition they deserve.
* When you call, find out who's in charge of purchasing. City councils or town administrators usually make overall policy and purchasing managers implement it. If you have trouble getting the information, ask your city council member to help.
* Get details on the city's purchasing policy. Most local governments require only that products be bought from the company with the lowest price. Your town may intentionally exclude recycled materials from consideration.
* If people seem receptive, follow up by asking specifically what recycled products they plan on purchasing. The mayor's stationery? Business cards? City forms?
* It will help for you to be able to offer names of suppliers and specific products. So next week EarthWorks will supply a list of sources any local government can contact for recycled materials.