Coming from the rural southern US, we Tennesseans do not really give much thought to recycling. We know that maybe we should, but we still don't. Why? Maybe resources just aren't available for recycling or maybe people just don't know they exist. Honestly, I couldn't even tell you if my hometown convenience center even has recycling bins. On top of everything, as the U.S. becomes even more of a consumer-culture, children simply just are not introduced to the idea. They cannot not know, what you are not taught or are not exposed to. Environmentally numb (do you like that term?) children grow into environmentally numb adults, which in turn raise more environmentally numb children, and the cycle goes on and on.
When I was growing up in my parents' house, we recycled aluminum soda cans. Why? Because we drank a lot of soda, and when we recycled, my brother and I received money for them. We recycled not out of concern for the environment but out of economic benefit. Sad, huh?
Here in Finland, recycling seems to be a normal way of life. Because of this normality, I've learned a lot about recycling. At my apartment in Pori, I am able to recycle probably 90 percent or better of my produced waste. My apartment building offers the opportunity to recycle glass, metal, plastic, paper, cardboard, and bio-products (i.e. banana peels, orange peels, etc.). The only truly mixed waste I produce regularly is my bathroom trash.
What makes the Finns so different from us in Tennessee? I've noticed a few things that I think play a major role in why Finns recycle so adamantly.
They are surrounded by nature. Finland is home to a multitude of pristine lakes and green forests. Being surrounded by this much nature, I believe, has cultivated a strong connection with the environment. The Finns enjoy out door activities like fishing and hiking. Most spend much of the summer in their summer cottages, living more simply without technology, electricity or running water. This strong connection to their natural surroundings makes the Finns want to protect it.
Recycling is taught at a very young age. Environmentally responsible adults result from educating children at a young age. Although I'm not familiar with the happenings within elementary schools, I first noticed this connection when stumbling across some of my Finnish boyfriend's old school coloring books. The activities in a few of them were completely centered around teaching good environmental behavior. So, even without directly teaching recycling, children are still indirectly learning this environmental responsibility.
Recycling is easy. The cities provide numerous recycling bins in different areas around the city, which makes recycling simple. Some of the bigger cities offer more opportunities than others. For example, in my apartment in Pori, I can recycle much more (see above) than with my boyfriend in Kerava, where there are only paper, cardboard, metal, and glass bins. Therefore, all of our plastic and bio-waste (food products) go into the trash where most likely they are ultimately stored in a landfill.
Finland, for whatever reason, has created an atmosphere that is favorable for recycling. Children are raised to be environmentally responsible adults, and the government makes sure recycling is not a chore.
It has been my experience that recycling leaves you feeling rather good. Maybe, you aren't changing the world, but you are helping to lessen your ecological impact. Think about it this way. If every person on the planet took small steps to lessen their environmental footprint, those combined efforts would amass to some great changes worldwide. Every step, no matter how small, matters.