If every problem has a tipping point, Hammond residents should look at the tipping fees they're paying for garbage dumped in landfills.
Setting aside the issue of environmental responsibility for the moment, look at the financial impact of Hammond's low recycling rate.
Some 36 percent of Hammond households participated in curbside recycling during a recent two-week collection cycle, said Steve Fowler, the city's acting recycling director. In some parts of the city, the rate is as low as 15 percent.
Garbage trucks are charged a tipping fee at landfills, whereas selling truckloads of recyclables brings revenue to the city.
"We get the double penalty," Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. said. "If we're not putting out recyclables, not only are we not making the revenue, we're paying more to landfill it."
McDermott has called the city's recycling rate "embarrassing." He might also have called it expensive.
Residents need to step up their game in Hammond and elsewhere. In 2012, Hammond's recycling rate was put at 15.7 percent, as measured by tons of household waste diverted from the landfill. Gary had a rate of 22.5 percent and East Chicago 25 percent.
Changing behavior to improve that recycling rate requires education in the dollars and cents of recycling vs. landfills, not just the environmental benefits of recycling.
It also requires making sure everyone has the wheeled recycling bins they need for curbside recycling. Don't worry about sorting the recyclables; just throw it all in the large bin, wheel it out to the curb every other week, and let the workers at a transfer station sort it all for you. That has been proven to improve recycling rates.
And teach residents what should or should not be recycled. The more they know, the less likely they are to put recyclables in landfills.
Hammond's recycling department, along with the Lake County Solid Waste Management District, must make extra effort to educate residents, restaurant patrons, office workers and others on the need to recycle and how to do it.