Rural recycling remains an under-studied area in sustainability research. Because of this–and because of my own personal fascination with municipal solid waste and its reduction–I have decided to investigate some of the challenges that inhibit recycling in rural Oklahoman communities. This research has not yet begun, but it will center on rural communities in central and south-central Oklahoma.
Like many environmental issues, recycling systems exist at the mercy of three stakeholder groups: consumers, industry, and government. In this case, the consumers are rural residents. The residents choose whether to participate in the recycling programs available (if there are any) and decide on the extent of their participation. Residents also have some influence in demanding (directly or indirectly) various recycling systems, whether that be curbside pick-up, drop-off stations, or no recycling system at all. The industry component consists of the companies that offer recycling services. Companies differ in the types of service they provide (variables include frequency of collection, collection method, processing method, whether they require residents to clean items before recycling, and more). Companies also differ in what materials they choose to collect. One company may collect plastics and cardboard while another collects those items plus glass, or glass and paper but not plastic or cardboard. Still others may collect batteries and electronic waste or may only collect certain varieties of plastic or glass. The number of potential combinations of services is multitudinous. In conjunction with all these possible combinations lies the government sector. In the case of recycling, the government sector consists of the municipality that engages in a contract with a recycling company to offer recycling services to its residents. All three of these stakeholder groups interact with and push against each other to create a unique recycling system in each community. How then does one go about identifying and studying these interactions?
I personally am not interested in cataloguing every resident-company-municipality interaction in rural Oklahoma. Instead, I am interested in the intersection of these interactions. Where does the willingness of the of the residents to participate in various recycling systems intersect with the services offered by recycling companies and the services contracted by municipalities? Or, as the case may be, where do these elements misalign? To get a glimpse at these intersections (or missed connections), I will engage with each of the three stakeholder groups. I will interview municipal officials and industry professionals to get an inside look at the challenges faced by municipalities and recycling companies and be introduced to their priorities and concerns. I will also provide surveys to residents of rural towns in central and south-central Oklahoma to understand their opinions on different recycling systems. Together, these three elements should yield insight in to what encourages or inhibits pro-recycling behaviors in rural communities in Oklahoma.