From googly-eyed trash wheels to musical garbage trucks, here are the top 5 places in the world that are taking recycling to the next level.
Who said recycling has to be boring? Okay, it might not be the sexiest or most exciting way to conserve...in most places. But these five cities are proving the third “R” can be ample inspiration for street art, community building, and more. Municipalities everywhere, take note.
1. San Francisco, CA: The recycling superstar of the U.S., San Francisco has a mandatory, city-wide composting program that fines businesses and households for wasting food scraps. As their website states, “In San Francisco you can now recycle just about anything.” With that attitude, zero waste by 2020 doesn’t seem so out of reach.
San Fran was also one of the first U.S. cities to ban the environmentally insidious plastic bag (Cambridge, MA recently followed suit).
2. Baltimore, MD: Take a stroll along the harborside perimeter of Baltimore and, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a giant, googly-eyed carriage on the horizon. That’s Mr. Trash Wheel, hometown hero since 2014. Mothered by the Healthy Harbor Initiative, he uses solar and hydropower to suck debris from the Chesapeake Bay and put it in the dumpster. The wheel has collected over one million pounds of garbage so far. Plus, just look at that face! So cute. Be sure to check out his Instagram.
Mr. Trash Wheel also recently found a buddy, Professor Trash Wheel, who picks up bottles and smaller-sized debris.
3. Taiwan: Residents of Taiwan don’t have to dread trash day. Recycling trucks roll through the street blasting classical music, like Beethoven, to alert everyone it’s time to deposit their reusable waste. (As one commenter on this video pointed out, the sound of its approach is so joyous it is easily mistaken for an ice cream truck.) They also charge citizens by bag size, encouraging them to toss out less. The nation now has a 20% higher recycling rate than the U.S.
4. Curitiba, Brazil: This city is all about energy efficiency. At Curitiba’s public parks, their green ideology takes the form of sheep lawnmowers. A flock of hungry sheep is regularly enlisted, with the help of a shepherd, to graze on urban grass and keep it trimmed, cutting out aggressive landscaping.
Aside from that, Curitiba boasts one of the best bus systems in the world, which about 75 percent of the city’s residents use. Its public transportation system is so impressive that it helped inspire a documentary. And, of course, they’re all-star recyclers. Curitibanos who collect recyclables from the street and turn them in are rewarded with government-rationed fruits, vegetables, eggs, and bus tickets.
5. Houston, TX: You might not recognize the trash trucks in this city: with wooden, gingham, blue-spiraled, and ivy-covered vinyl panels, they were actually dubbed “museums on wheels” by Houston's Solid Waste Management Department. The six mobile recyclers were painted by local artists and unveiled in 2014 to statewide applause. Between this initiative and a roving food culture, community-based trucks are proving reliable boons for Houston.