BETTER INFRASTRUCTURE will only bring Boston partway. “You can’t give people a recycling bin and expect a light bulb to go on,” says consultant Amy Perlmutter. Maybe, she says, the best way to increase recycling is to move beyond recycling. “It’s about infusing sustainability into everything we do,” she says. I heard the same sentiment echoed again and again. “We need to change consumption habits, change products, and shift public behavior away from disposable items,” says Randi Mail, director of recycling for Cambridge. “That doesn’t necessarily mean sacrifice, it just means change.”
At Deer Island, I rode a gleaming silver elevator to an enclosed catwalk and stood on top of one of those giant eggs. The egg was singing — an otherworldly high-pitched note generated by the whirling corkscrew inside. I climbed a small step and looked out the window, across the blue harbor to the shimmering Boston skyline. I imagined barges of food scraps lumbering across the water and microbes in the eggs converting coffee grounds into energy. I imagined Boston as a sustainable city, where the recycling rate is a badge of civic pride, where it’s safer to ride a bicycle, and where it’s cool to wrap presents in used paper.
“Change is possible,” says Kent Portney, a professor in the department of political science at Tufts University who studies sustainability in cities, “but in Boston it takes a lot more effort to push things over the hump.” Luckily, Bostonians like a challenge. Otherwise, why would we embrace a city with such crummy weather and impossible parking? Changing culture is slow and difficult, but it’s the only path to zero waste. San Francisco, here we come.
Barbara Moran is a science writer in Brookline. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.