Increased public knowledge of the true, comparative costs of different types of recycling will lead to better decisions about both purchases and recycling behavior. Unfortunately, people don’t know what they don’t know. People and companies need to be helped to understand which types of recycling are more efficient in terms of total requirements for energy and materials, for example, and that requires in-depth study of the entire life cycle of products and packaging. Without good information, the public can not make the environmentally-responsible choices that can buy time and move our society towards sustainability. So, where will this information come from, and why is it not more prevalent?
Corporations are already performing the research and studies needed to understand many environmental matters, but may be reluctant to publicize their findings as the information may provide them with competitive advantages. As a result, the average person is not helped to learn the facts about the true costs of recycling and other more ecologically-responsible behaviors.
One part of the solution is for educational institutions to publicize their research and increase emphasis on study in these areas, creating more specialized concentrations in areas of environmental engineering, for example. Universities are often less concerned about publishing new information than corporations, as they gain competitive advantage and attract better students by publicizing their advancements rather than hiding them. The case where this is not true is that in which the university expects to benefit in financial or other terms from the commercialization of an idea or area of research. Unfortunately, decreases in funding for educational institutions in general make this phenomenon occur with increasing frequency.
Certainly government labs should play a part in the acquisition and dissemination of information about recycling, but government resources have increasingly been directed elsewhere, and corporate influence on government policies has increased so much in the recent past, that I don’t expect much. In addition, as in educational institutions, government-funded labs are increasingly looking for commercialization opportunities for the technologies they develop. Hopefully the trend will be reversed in the future, as public concern and political pressure around environmental concerns continue to increase.
It is apparent that the dynamic forces around the development and dissemination of public information that would foster ecologically responsible behavior are not all pushing in the positive direction