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A Recycling Dilemma

Monday, Nov. 28, 2011
Photo by Bill Bumgarner available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.


The best student comment on "A Recycling Dilemma" wins a $100 Amazon gift certificate.  Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, Dec. 11.  Finalists are selected by "likes," so click the Facebook icon above to let your friends know about The Big Q contest.  If you want to follow the comments as they come in and be informed about the winner, you can subscribe to the blog with the RSS button or by email at the bottom of the right-hand column.

One Friday night, Steve and his housemates threw a huge party at their place for a good friend's birthday. After many hours of fun, all the guests went home, leaving bottles, cups, food wrappers, and party favors everywhere throughout the house and backyard. The next morning, when Steve came downstairs, he found that his housemates had put all the garbage into five large trash bags and were about to put them all in the dumpster. However, Steve knew a majority of the contents were recyclable, and his friends had just been too lazy to sort it.

Should Steve stop his friends and make them go through the trash for the recyclable materials, even though it may take an extra 30 minutes? Or should he just let them throw it all in the dumpster and be done with it?


Here are some helpful resources:

 A Framework for Ethical Decision Making


Recycling Basics

Is Recycling Worth the Trouble, Cost?


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Photo by Bill Bumgarner (bbumavailable under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial License.

Comments Comments

Jeremy Geist said on Nov 28, 2011
Steve will likely be unable to convince his friends to do ithow would you feel if someone went up to you and said "I know you took two hours to clean everything up but I don't think you did it right?" If they were still picking up, I would be in favor of recycling (in this caseit's on a small scale and doesn't apply to the cost of recycling as a whole), but it's too late for Steve to do anything now. - Like - 2 people like this.
Jared Pizzo said on Nov 28, 2011
While Steve might be unable to convince his friends it's still worth a shot. Maybe he does convince them. I don't know about you, but I have picked up a lot of trash, especially cans that can be recycled and two hours of picking up trash means a lot of recyclables. It may seem small scale but ask yourself, "What if everyone took the time to sort their trash?" Its never too late to make a difference and no contribution is too small. - Like - 21 people like this.
Danny Jordan said on Nov 29, 2011
Considering the fact that Steve's housemates spent the entire morning cleaning the house, I truly doubt that they would be willing to undo all the work they just achieved to simply recycle. My suggestion is to fast track past the issue of having any of the housemates, including Steve, do the sorting. I suggest that since many recycling plants do not accept all the recycling you normally send in, that they should simply place all the trash in the recycling bins while placing strictly recyclables on the top. this would cause the trashmen to pick up the recycling, bring it to the recycling plants, and then allow the individuals there, who are paid to sort the recycling into recyclables and non-recyclables, to sort through the trash. - Like - 16 people like this.
Jake Teeny said on Nov 29, 2011
Dismissing the outcome of whether Steve's friends will or will not help him with the trash, there are a number of the ethical questions that concern Steves actions of confronting his friends about it in the first place. And in my opinion, there are three ways in which these questions can be phrased: from a Kantian perspective, from a utilitarian perspective, or from a virtue ethics approach. Kantian: * Does recycling count as a categorical imperative? (a moral law that should be followed at all times for the betterment of humanity) * If Steve doesnt ask his friends to help him recycle, how would that affect the community if he and his friends then never chose to recycle? Utilitarian: * Does sorting the trash provide a greater happiness to the rest of the community in comparison to the amount of happiness that will be lost in spending the extra time to recycle? * Will the potential discomfort of Steve confronting his friends outweigh the discomfort Steve would feel for doing nothing? Virtue: * While recycling may be the right thing to do most of the time, does this situation provide an exception if Steve and housemates promise to recycle in the future? * Because Steve has an understanding of the value of recycling, how would it fit within his moral code to do nothing about the current situation? I dont claim to have unwavering answers to all of these questions, but I do believe that if you honestly take your time to go through them, it becomes apparent that Steve has an obligation to ask his friends to help him sort the trash. And if his housemates decline to help, it would be Steves responsibility to recycle on his own. We live in a global society where actions and choices drastically affect those around us. If Steve chooses to do nothing, he chooses to stand by and let wrongness be done. - Like
Drew Kells said on Nov 30, 2011
I think all of you guys make some very valid points. Steve is in a tough situation and while he may know what the right thing to do is (the act of recycling properly), the actual act of confronting his housemates about doing this would be challenging. I agree with Jeremy that this could upset those that spent a lot of time picking up could be angered by this, but Jared is right that they may be convinced to act in a more environmentally friend if Steve at least attempts to talk to them. I think a good question that Jake asks if whether the discomfort of Steve confronting his roommates will outweigh the discomfort of him not doing anything. In my opinion, the answer to this is that it will not outweigh the option of choosing to stay quiet. Talking to his housemates about recycling could anger them in the short term, but they would likely understand that he is trying to do a responsible thing and this discomfort would not last long. Not talking to them at all is a discomfort that could stay on Steve's mind much longer. Being proactive is one of the biggest challenges that people face when making decisions on recycling and other environmental issues. While the right choice may not be the easiest and can often require you to go a little bit further to do what is best for the environment, it is a big step when someone chooses to make that effort. If Steve decides to talk to his housemates about recycling, this small act may promote them to do the same in the future and could create a ripple effect. If we are going to start acting more environmentally responsible as a whole society, it is going to have to start with small, challenging acts of people consciously choosing to take that extra step and do what they know they should. - Like
Nick Buckley said on Nov 30, 2011
If I came downstairs to a clean house the night after a huge party, I would be more than happy. Although recycling is obviously better for the environment, I would not ask my housemates to unpack the garbage and sort through it. Also, I doubt that I would go through 5 large garbage bags and sort out recycling. The can collectors also almost always go through our dumpsters and sort out the cans and take them. Steve could talk to his housemates to be more conscious about it in the future but in this instance, it does not seem vital at all to sort through 5 bins of garbage. - Like - 2 people like this.
Mauricio Villa said on Nov 30, 2011
I do believe that the extra thirty minutes should be arranged in order to suit the trash in the recycling bins for two reasons. Firstly, according to the information given it sounds like there is a lot of trash that the housemates dealt with, thus making it essential for the roommates to make the effort and try and preserve our environment. Moreover, I also suggest that since the roommates did the first round of cleaning it should either be a collaborative effort to recycle or Steve should take the initiative to place the recyclable material in the correct bins.Secondly, since the majority of the materials used during the party are recyclable (cups, paper materials, bottles..ect)then its up to Steve to decide if he wants to confront his roommates or do it by himself. Either way something should be done about the act of recycling because were dealing with a group of young adults who are the future of our society and need to set an example for generations to come. - Like - 2 people like this.
Taylor Womack said on Dec 1, 2011
I think it would be highly unlikely for Steve to convince his housemates to re-do the work they just completed. However, considering the amount of trash they seemed to have picked up, an effort to sort out the recyclables would greatly benefit our environment. Although Steve may not be able to convince his housemates to sort out the trash this time around, he can encourage them to do so in the future. In this case, Steve should take the initiative of going through the trash his housemates have already collected and set a good example by taking his own advise. - Like
Tani Pozirekides said on Dec 1, 2011
I definitely think that it would be hard for Steve to convince his housemates to go through bags of garbage to sort out all of the recyclables. If Steve wants to set an example by sorting them himself and asking his housemates to do so in the future, that would probably be the most realistic option. - Like
John Cook said on Dec 2, 2011
Like Drew, I too feel that the other comments have made some great points. The way I would handle it is simple. First, if I came downstairs to a clean house after a long night of partying I would be ecstatic and thank my roommates for a clean-up job well done. I would then inform them of my views on recycling and how if everyone did their part, the world could be a much better place. I would also let them know that for the next time they clean up, if they would kindly sort the trash from the recyclables that I would bag all of it up and take it down to the recycling center, get rid of the trash and finish the clean-up efforts. I absolutely would not expect them to undo their work to re-sort the trash from the recyclables, and since I did expect do partake in the clean-up efforts I would go through and sort the bags independently. If my roommates decided to help me, that would be awesome but if they didn't I would not and cannot be upset. - Like - 9 people like this.
Callie Tepper said on Dec 2, 2011
I agree that if I were to come downstairs to a clean house after a party I would be so grateful. But I agree with the points made by Drew and others that the benefits of asking the friends to recycle outweigh the discomforts. If Steve were to let this time slide because it may take some extra time or discomfort to sort through the trash then are we saying that we should only recycle when it is convenient? Yes this is a small scale situation of recycling, but if everyone responded by taking the easy road then that could be 15 houses across campus not recycling. I think John makes a great suggestion that Steve should enlist the help of his friends but that if they do not want to help because they already spent time cleaning then he should begin the task alone. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Alex Hildebrand said on Dec 5, 2011
Steve and his friends should not worry about the recycling. If they leave the trash out the can people take all the recyclables over night - Like - 29 people like this.
Drake Jackson said on Dec 5, 2011
Santa Clara is know for many things, but to us, nothing is more special than our highly esteemed can people. These fine men and women work night and day to keep Bellomy a clean street. The best option, in my opinion, would be to call either canman, or Victor. Both would happily except this job and in fact, would thank you for it. It is beneficial for all parties involved. The streets are clean, they receive money for their recycles, and the world lives to fight another day. - Like - 14 people like this.
Kendrick Brown said on Dec 5, 2011
Steve should be thankful for the initiative of his roommates, but it would be difficult to ask for their help in sorting out the trash. In the future he should tell them to separate cans, cardboard, etc. Steve should go through the bags however, and try to salvage the recyclables. Leading by example, Steve is showing his housemates the importance of recycling, its relative ease, and its benefits. - Like - 15 people like this.
cdorsey said on Dec 5, 2011
Steve will unlikely to convince his housemates to separate it themselves, however, since his housemates did take hours cleaning the house while Steve was sleeping it will be good for Steve to take initiative to separate the recycling himself. That way he can both help out with the work and recycle the recyclables. Another option for Steve is to explain to his housemates that they can earn money off of recycling which could give them incentive to separate recycling or do it in future cases. - Like - 14 people like this.
Kadja Klarreich-Giglio said on Dec 5, 2011
Since Steve's friends already cleaned up the house, then it would be too demanding of Steve to ask his friends to go through the trash they just cleaned up. However, if Steve is passionate enough, he should sort through the trash himself. And if his housemates are really his friends then they will help him. If Steve is too lazy to do the responsible thing by himself then there is always the next time they throw a party. Steve should hold a house meeting and convince his housemates to recycle from then on so that Steve doesn't find himself in this situation again. - Like
Guest said on Dec 5, 2011
This is a moral dilemma for Steve's alone to solve. If it bothers him that his house is not recycling he should take initiative by himself. Since the ethical dilemma regarding recycling does not bother the conscience of his housemates, he should not be asking them to reorganize that which he did not help clean in the first place: the trash. He may request their help as he will do it, but other than that, he cannot force his housemates to reorganize the trash from recycling. - Like
Kyle Dandan said on Dec 5, 2011
If I were to come downstairs and see a clean house in front of me (knowing that it was so messy the night before), that would literally just make my day. I would be grateful to my housemates but at the same time be bugged by my conscience since I know the proper act of recycling. With this said I think I will take the extra 30 min to talk to my housemates about this matter, this might upset them in short term but they will eventually realize that recycling properly is the right thing to do, and that it will do us a favor in the long run. Yes, it will be very challenging since most college students are ignorant of recycling properly but I think that overcoming these challenges of talking to my housemates and taking the extra 30 min to sort waste out will all be worth it. - Like
Scott said on Dec 5, 2011
Steve's decision whether or not to ask his friends to sort out the recyclable depends ultimately upon whether he believes he has a moral obligation to recycle. If this is the case he should attempt to convince his housemates by appealing to their sense of justice. However, he should also take into account the fact that many do not share in his opinion. Thus, he is compelled to sort the trash himself. Additionally, He may be forced to sort the trash on his own. Based the series of events leading up to his current predicament suggest that he was not among those housemates downstairs who participated in the cleanup. If he wants to satisfy both his moral obligation to help the environment and his social obligation to his housemates he will partake in the sorting of recyclables by himself. - Like - 4 people like this.
Rafael Lopez said on Dec 5, 2011
Are you kidding me? Beggars can't be choosers. But seriously if Steve really has a problem with it, then he should be the one to deal with it. His housemates helped out a great deal by bagging up all the trash. The first thing I would think when I walked downstairs is thank God that I didn't have to do it. It would be so much more work and kind of a waste to rebag 5 bags of trash. I personally don't like to party just once so I'm sure there will a chance to do the right thing and sort it next time. Just tell your housemates that next time, sort the trash, simple as that. - Like - 11 people like this.
Laura Antonelli said on Dec 5, 2011
Steve's friends already made the effort to get up before Steve and clean the whole house. If recycling is of a great concern to Steve, then he should be the one to resort the bags and his housemates might offer to help him out. But, for Steve to tell his housemates to redo something they just did would be unrealistic. - Like - 2 people like this.
Nicolas Vinel said on Dec 6, 2011
Steve is in a tough spot here. He probably is debating whether or not he wants to be a good friend, and just thank his housemates for cleaning up the big mess and support them, or be a good citizen and let them know about the responsibility of recycling and why they should all work together to take that extra 30 minutes. I think if he approaches them in a non agressive matter and just explains to them that he appreciates their effort, but this small act of recycling is what we all need to start doing in order to really make a difference. - Like
Max Armengaud said on Dec 6, 2011
I don't think it matters too much. it is only few trashes. even though it is better to recycle and make an effort in each and every day it won't change the world to not recycle few trashes. his friends have probably more important stuff to do like study or work. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Stephanie Covell said on Dec 6, 2011
Steve needs to take initiative and sort through the trash himself. His housemates have already done him a favor by collecting the trash throughout the house, and it is a little unreasonable for him to expect them to now re-do their work. If Steve is truly passionate about his cause, then he shouldn't have any issues setting a good example for his housemates and taking the time to do the job correctly. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Tom Pham said on Dec 6, 2011
I would be delighted to see that the house has been cleaned but i would definitely let my friends recycle properly. Yes they may get mad but it is better to know how to recycle properly. I am hoping that they will eventually realize that this is the right thing to do and thank me for what I instilled in them. Besides, 30 minutes won't hurt especially if you know you're doing the right thing. - Like
Ben Chinoy said on Dec 10, 2011
Steve should absolutely make his friends go through the contents of the trash and recycle. While getting them to do this could be difficult, there are several actions Steve can take to instill a desire within his friends to recycle. First, Steve should volunteer to help them do it. Second, he should offer a reward of some sort. For example, if he said, "Hey, if we can go through all of this and recycle everything that needs to be recycled, I will buy you all pizza." Lastly, he should ask them nicely. His friends will be much more inclined to help him if he talks to them in a kind, positive manner. If Steve is aggressive or angry, his friends will become defensive and tell him he should be happy that they even cleaned up anything. In terms of ethics, this a dilemma that cuts to the core of what Steve fundamentally believes in. If he believes recycling is important enough to do, then he should take the time to do it. According to a "Framework for Thinking Ethically," the approach I believe Steve should take is the "Common Good Approach." It states that,"life in community is a good in itself and our actions should contribute to that life." Steve needs to understand that the action he takes will either benefit or hurt society as a whole. If he decides to make his friends recycle the trash, he will help make the world a cleaner place. If they do not want to do it, he still can. It only takes one person to make a difference. - Like - 15 people like this.
guest said on Dec 12, 2011
See this is exactly what's wrong with america. Buy your way out? Really? There is so much better uses you could use the money for the pizza for. Buying pizza for the entire house is not a cheap thing, especially if it's a house that is big enough to have a party that creates three bags of trash. I hope this post doesn't win, buying your way out should not be the answer. And if you buy them the pizza they will be looking for a reward every time. "well last time you brought us pizza, why would we do it again now for free"-housemate after their next party. - Like - 3 people like this.
Brian D said on Dec 12, 2011
agreed, all of these solutions are just for the short run. long terms goals are much better than short term goals in this scenerio. - Like - 2 people like this.
John Cook said on Dec 10, 2011
In response to Ben Chinoy's post, although I agree Steve should ask his friends nicely to recycle, I absolutely disagree that he should offer a reward to them. From my education on the subject, the one thing I've learned is that you cannot, ever, MAKE someone or in this case, a group of people, act "in the correct, and right manner." If they want to help him, maybe after seeing how Steve goes about sorting the recyclables out and how his passion to recycle is driven, then they may follow suit the next time they're confronted with the situation. Leading by example is the best case for this dilemma. - Like - 5 people like this.
Gandhi said on Dec 10, 2011
Steve thought his friends were too lazy to sort it? If Steve cared so much about recycling, he shouldn't have been sleeping while his friends were doing all the work. Recycling five trash bags of empty beer cans isn't going to change the world. If Steve really wants to make a difference, he should start by teaching his housemates the importance of recycling and start regularly reminding them to do so, rather than whine about it afterwards. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime... - Like - 10 people like this.
Nehika Miglani said on Dec 10, 2011
People in general need to get over themselves and their precious time (30 minutes is not a lot in the bigger scheme of things) and start respecting their lives and the world that they live in. Recycling does make a positive difference in individuals' lives so Steve should definitely sort through the trash. He should also try inspiring his housemates to do the same. Weather Steve's attempt to motivate them is successful or not is another, separate issue. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Ben Chinoy said on Dec 11, 2011
In response to John Cook's statement, why wouldn't you offer them an incentive? People feel much more inclined to work if they see an end goal. Why would Steve's friends spend their time working for no benefit, or for something they don't care about? The fact is, they wouldn't. Also, if Steve offered them incentives, they would see that the job means a lot to Steve, and would want to help him. As long as the job gets done though, it does not matter who does it. As Gandhi once said, "Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it." - Like - 2 people like this.
Gandhi said on Dec 11, 2011
I said no such thing. - Like - 2 people like this.
chuck said on Dec 11, 2011
we should recycle! p.s. go america! - Like
jack said on Dec 11, 2011
america! - Like
charlie said on Dec 12, 2011
he should just do it himself because he did not help clean - Like
Miriam Schulman said on Dec 13, 2011
The winner of this week's Big Q contest is Ben Chinoy. Ben really brought ethical concepts to his discussion, which is what gave him the edge in the competition. If you weren't a winner this time, try again. The current case is about giving money to charity. - Like
Alex Hildebrand said on Dec 21, 2011
But I had the most likes. This means that you lied in your rules and I expect to be compensated with my prize. I won fair and square if we are talking "ethics". You should follow the rules you posted because that is the ethically correct thing to do. Thanks - Like - 1 person likes this.
Miriam Schulman said on Dec 22, 2011
Hi Alex, Here are the rules, which you can find in the About The Big Q section at right: "Five finalists will be determined by likes. Encourage your friends to come to the blog and like your comment. Winner will be selected by staff and students at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics based on the student's analysis of the ethical issues. The Ethics Center reserves the right not to make an award in a week when no comment is judged prize-worthy." Your comment was one of the five we considered, but by a unanimous vote of the committee of students and staff at the Markkula Center, Ben was judged to have made the best analysis of the ethical issues. - Like
sayeed said on Jan 6, 2012
I understand the window for comments has ended, but might I suggest that Steve allow the bags or recyclables and trash to be put to the curb, but untied. Thus allowing our friendly neighborhood hobo to take advantage of the situation and make some do'. Win win win. - Like
Yonghao Zhou said on Jan 28, 2014
Certainly, an effort to sort out the recyclables would greatly benefit our environment. However, it would be highly unlikely for Steve to convince his housemates to re-do the work they just completed. Although Steve may not be able to convince his housemates to re-do the work this time, he could still encourage them to do so in the future. In this case, what Steve ought to do is to take the initiative of going through the trash his housemates have already collected, hence set a good example by taking his own advise? - Like
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Tags: clean, college, enviroment, ethics, green, recycling