Awareness and incentives for plumbers to go green

As I’ve watched and worked in my dad’s plumbing business, I’ve noticed he and other plumbers have practiced few, if any, greener business practices. In some instances [like recycling cardboard boxes], he would only have to change his behaviors little. Other practices (like educating customers on more efficient hot water tanks or geothermal hot tanks and installing them, he would have to learn more about the technologies, take additional classes, and in short term, be more unfamiliar with what he’s working with (which, is assuming, by being unfamiliar, it will take longer to install and may run into problems he may not know the answer to).

As I was helping my father this week replacing a customer’s bathroom, I noticed that he could divert useable construction material from landfills instead of throwing them in the trash. However, public policy and plumbers and customers’ minds will have to change for this to happen.

I was taking off all of the old tiles from the bathroom wall. After I finished, there were over 3 boxes of (a shade of purple from the 1970s, I admit a bit ugly) tiles that could be reused.
Knowing they would be destined for the landfill, I thought of taking them to the Cleveland Habitat for Humanity Restore, on West 110th, where you could donate usable construction materials for the public to buy at discounted prices with the profits going to Habit for Humanity.

When I mentioned this to my father, he brushed it off. I can understand from his perspective. Like any other contractor, he has no incentive other than the good of his heart (plus taking 30+ minute trip from our customer to the Restore) to take the material out to the Restore instead of the tree lawn for the garbageman. I planned on taking them myself a couple days later. By then, the customer had put the boxes and the other debris [over 12 cardboard boxes total] to the trash.

Alas, all debris will continue to go in the landfill unless the contractor had an incentive to take them to the Restore or reuse the materials in another way. The economist in me, would be to charge based on the amount of garbage that one produces. This practice is already implemented in different towns across the country(study by the Reason Foundation). However if this were to happen, a cynical part of think the plumber would continue to throw out the material and just charge the customer more.
In spite of that, I think the variable pricing of garbage should be the way to go, to show the true environmental cost of the trash and would be the best way to change plumbers’ behaviors.

[‘Green’ is a very vague term and can be problematic because there is no consensus on what it means. In my post’s context, I’m using it to mean, relative to their current practice, a green business behavior would mean: using a product that uses a lower amount of material resources in its creation, effectively reusing or recycling materials, using products that have fewer harmful chemicals in them, installing plumbing fixtures that: increase water conservancy, e.g. rain barrels, or increase its energy efficiency].

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