Deseret News Archives

As with mandatory seat-belt use and mandatory motorcycle helmets, the notion of mandatory recycling has been met in Utah with mixed reviews. Bountiful is currently in the middle of the debate. Some citizens there have struggled these past few months to amass enough signatures to force a vote on repealing the mandatory recycling law. In a survey, 58 percent of the city was against the mandatory program.

You can't legislate morals, of course. But you can legislate responsible behavior. Anti-littering laws, anti-smoking laws — not to mention myriad traffic and pedestrian laws — all are an attempt to make people be more conscientious.

In Seattle, the mandatory recycling program has worked wonders. According to officials there, few citations have been issued and few violations have been noted. And the benefits have been great. But that's Seattle. Writing for the Leader-Post in Canada's Regina region, David Seymour sounds the trumpet for the other side.

"Unfortunately, we do not know what kind of materials our descendants will use," he writes. "Thirty years ago, it might have seemed reasonable to conserve copper wire for future generations' telephone wires. This would have been useless..."

He goes on to say that the private sector is doing a good job of handling recycling. There's no need to make a crime out of tossing aluminum cans into a landfill.

In Utah, the issue has been complicated even more by liberal politics. For some, mandatory recycling carries the scent of a "green agenda." And going green — by government decree — is seen by some as simply another way for the environmentalists to get their hooks in people.

Still, forcing people to separate their aluminum and plastic from biodegradable refuse seems to promise more benefits than pain. One reason soft drinks are so cheap in supermarkets is because of recycling. With a little care, many materials can be put to work time and time again with a minimum of hassle and expense.

People no longer litter. That law has served as an "attitude adjustment." Most Americans now see the wisdom in banning motorists from tossing paper sacks full of baby diapers on the highway. And using mandatory recycling laws to induce a nudge in the right direction — the direction of accountability and a concern for fellow travelers on Earth — doesn't seem to be demanding the moon.