When Americans tried to control society with a ban on alcohol sales and production, the results were controversial and telling.  We can look back on that effort and learn a lot about what happens when ill-guided morality gets in the way of personal choice and the ability to earn money and survive in a country where opportunity is supposed to be rampant.  People want to be able to choose for themselves whether or not they will drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or marijuana; they want the right to earn money doing things other people may consider egregious or appalling like stripping, selling beer or even recycling.

When folks are stopped from doing things that are morally ambiguous and are easily accomplished in a clandestine way, they will turn to the dark side of the law.  Since people are not often moved by laws anyway, rather by their own personal beliefs, if some mother of five wants a glass of wine at the end of a really long day, she will probably find a way to make that happen.  See the vile of booze tucked into the high heels above!  And, if a community of people understand that desire, they can form whole networks in order to meet the need-laws be damned.

Gangsters, in fact, did take up the cause when Prohibition took effect in the States.  From Al Capone to Bugsy Siegal, there were multi-milliom dollar industries built on black market alcohol production and sales.  Capone’s influence was so massive in Chicago, he had entire townships under his political control and wielded far more power than any law.  Recycling and waster management could easily turn into the same kind of affair.  There are many cities (big and small) across the planet that speak in hushed tones about their garbage collectors.  There’s  a lot of money in trash-it is a billion dollar industry no matter what-but the question is-who gets to take part in this economy?  If we take away legitimate and safe ways to recycle, like state certified recycling centers, the black market will soon ooze in.  The waste won’t go away, the people who try to earn a little income from it won’t go away, someone will try to serve them-and will try to exploit them.

Down at Civic Center, there have already been several reports of a burgeoning black market for recycling.  KTVU and other local news agencies have covered the story.  A small nonprofit had its window smashed overnight just weeks ago; they feel they were attacked for speaking up against black market recycling.  Without a handle on the market value and real incentives for keeping this a regulated, fair, and legitimate system, violence, exploitation and harm may become the norm when it comes to recycling in SF as it has in other towns.  When nonprofits like the Haight Ashbury Council and other organizations for public benefit like Green Streets take the responsibility to help the community handle their waste in a civilized way that improves the health and safety of an area, this work should be recognized so more people can do it.  At HANC, we know most of our customers.  On the black market, they don’t.  At HANC we have rules for conduct, behavior and abide by the state laws for payments on recycled materials-at the black market, they don’t.

No matter what, people will recycle.  Should we cover our eyes and let them sort it out themselves or participate in the process?  Don’t ban recycling from Golden Gate Park or any other place in SF.  The CA Bottle Bill is the single most successful piece of legislature to date that has inspired people to bring back their bottles and cans for a deposit return.  This bill was not written for the garbage companies or the gangsters or the homeowners with the blue bins, this bill was written to hold beverage makers accountable for the waste they create by selling drinks in disposable containers.  That waste is offset through recycling and that recycling happens because there is a deposit on the container.  Uphold the laws that work for all, not for some.  Encourage legal and fair recycling in San Francisco and all over the world.