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The older and wiser recyclers

June 1, 2010

A survey by a Swedish supplier of recycling bins to the UK suggests that the section of the population most likely to recycle are older, married women.

The Daily Telegraph, which reported the poll, quoted a Women’s Institute representative who explained that this is down to the sense of responsibility to the planet and the next generation that comes with being a mother.

She could have added that some WI members have experienced the rationing of wartime and its immediate aftermath, which engendered a frugality and aversion to waste which has stayed with them.  The WI itself emerged in the UK through the need to produce more food during the First World War, at a time when little remotely edible would have been consigned to the bin.

One would imagine a father, too, would have a sense of responsibility.  But maybe there is something about being a female that causes a greater desire to recycle.  Perhaps it’s down to superior empathy.

As for why statistics show that married couples recycle more than singletons, it could be down to the female influence again.  There’s also the sharing of what is an irksome duty: the single person could be less inclined to clean out his empty tuna tin, having had to shop, cook and do the washing up all on his own.

Other studies have revealed that affluent people recycle more than the less well-off.  Presumably allowances are made for the fact that the better-off would consume more and therefore have more to recycle.  The poorer, ethnic minority communities have particularly low recycling rates. 

While for those whose lives can be difficult recycling is low on the list of priorities, for others recycling is not about choice, awareness or social circumstances but mere practicalities.  If you live in the sticks and don’t recycle every last bit of glass, tin and paper it’s probably due not to lack of motivation but of facilities.

It is hard to see today’s younger generation being as frugal or affluent when they are in their 70s as today’s pensioners.  So recycling would need to be made easier, and there would have to be sticks as well as carrots in the form of passing on the costs of collections, incineration and landfill.

Not even the most optimistic sun worshipper would expect so many hot, hot summers that young, single men a) get shocked into believing that global warming is speeding up and b) get fed up with the stench of food rotting in their street’s frazzled bins awaiting their fortnightly collection.

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