About a year and a half ago, I moved into a condo building close to downtown and to the University of Utah, where I am adjunct faculty in the College of Architecture + Planning. It has been quite a few years now that I’ve been using energy efficient compact fluorescent bulbs and have been recycling my trash. These are measures that have become old hat to most people by now.
So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered there was no recycling of trash in our 72 unit condo building, because the city refuses to offer recycling to larger condo buildings. I tried to get a straight answer from city staff members, but to no avail. In the end, it sounded to me like the city doesn’t want to infringe on personal freedom, or the most confusing answer, “It’s just too difficult.”
None of this made sense to me, even after many inquiries to the city. So I’m still waiting for a clear and concise answer to this issue, especially when I look down on my surrounding neighborhood and see the now familiar blue recycling trash cans. My neighbors enjoy recycling because they live in single-family homes, but we in the condo building are not allowed to participate in that service.
It has taken me the better part of a year, and a recent influx of younger owners in our building, to get our HOA board to begin measures to implement a recycling program for our building. While there has been no strong resistance to such a program, many in the building are reluctant to vote for recycling because they don’t want our HOA to pay more for trash removal that is now paid for a company to come in and simply haul everything off to the landfill. And they are not sure they want the extra effort and “inconvenience” of having more than one trash container in our condo units. To be fair, our HOA President and board are supportive of the idea, but it will still take some convincing of building owners, that in the long run it will be “worth it.”
There was the same kind of reluctance when it was suggested we change out all our interior space bulbs to save energy (“How much will it cost?”), but that hurdle was not so difficult, and we now have all our corridors and our entry lobby using much less energy in an eight story building where interior lights are on 24 hours a day.
I tell my condo recycling story to illustrate the point, that we may assume everyone is on board with sustainability, but it is still like pulling teeth to convince the general public that these basic measures are important if we are going to create a more sustainable planet. This is frustrating because once these basic measures are accomplished, the real work of slowing down climate change and building sustainable communities can begin.
Please don’t get me wrong. I believe recycling and changing light bulbs and buying energy efficient appliances and more fuel efficient cars are important measures. But they aren’t going to do what needs to be done in this next decade to arrest runaway climate change and the depletion of global natural resources.
When “Going Green” became popular on daytime TV a few years ago, I fear that it may have done more damage then we know, because these were rather fast and easy answers to a much larger issue. The public needs to realize that these are only the most basic things we can do. Much, much more critical issues are (not so patiently) waiting for all of us to get our minds around them. These larger issues will take the concerted work of many interests and sectors of our economy to truly begin creating a more sustainable planet.
So yes, change light bulbs and recycle, and start driving less and begin using public transportation, and all the little things that we as responsible citizens should do. But realize that it is going to take much larger measures, like stopping suburban sprawl and developing renewable forms of energy, if we are to avoid an inevitable energy and ecological crisis.