Click here to learn more about our guest blogger Tara Dodson and Living Full Circle LLC.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2016, Americans generated 262.4 million tons of trash, and 137.7 million tons of that trash ended up in landfills. Approximately 91 million tons of this trash was recycled or turned into compost.
If I told you we could do better would you believe me? It would depend on your perspective. I am writing this to let you know recycling is worth it when done correctly.
In a study conducted by the Tellus Institute (Tellus Institute study), if we divert 75% of municipal solid waste and construction debris through an enhanced recycling and composting strategy by 2030, it would result in increased jobs and less pressure on our ecological systems.
Implementing a recycling program can also save your organization money. Companies can reduce the amount of money paid to get trash hauled away - saving them money in landfill tipping fees. Recycling can cost less because the provider can sell the materials, thus reducing the expense and resources it takes to take up precious landfill space. Other benefits of proper recycling include: reducing the amount of waste sent to the landfill and incinerators, reducing our depletion of finite natural resources, and increasing economic security.
So why don’t more people or organizations recycle and how can they recycle right?
Recycling is confusing - and it doesn't have to be
Some of the opposition towards recycling programs stems from a culture rooted in miseducation on recycling. The other side of this resistance stems from the fact that recycling is confusing.
A percentage of the general public believe that when a recycling truck leaves with recyclable materials, it is sent straight to the landfill. This indeed may happen when a recycling load is so contaminated that good recyclables are too dirty to process.
So who's to blame? The responsibility falls on the recycling haulers to educate their customers and provide clear expectations for what can and cannot be accepted in the recycling bin.
When our recycling hauler does not provide us with the proper information on the bin lid itself and in our homes we end up throwing dirty diapers, Styrofoam laced with food, greasy pizza boxes and plastic bags are into the bin.
This contamination eliminates closed loop manufacturing from thriving - this is where a recyclable product can be turned into another type of manufactured good. It is the responsibility of the recycling provider to send the right message and that of the citizen to know better what they can recycle, when, and how. Multiple waste haulers exist around the country offering varying levels of service from a single stream to plastic only and so on. And yet, not enough have adopted a solution to educate the public on a massive scale.
Imagine if in the US you drove in a car from city to city and state to state and each location you passed through had a completely different style of road safety signs. In southern Florida the exit signs are pink, then as you move your way to northern Florida they become blue. Stop signs in New York are yellow while in Chicago the were green. If this were the case we'd see way more accidents on the road and no one would be able to drive properly. Thank goodness this is not the case.
We recognize that driving is an integral part of everyday life and that we need to make sure people visiting from all over the US and all over the world can drive properly, we've come up with a standardized road safety system. A stop sign is a stop sign no matter where you are. You learn the rules when you get your license once and eventually you don’t have to think about it. You stop, you look both ways, and move on. It becomes second nature. When approaching recycling and trash bin have you ever noticed that there are different labels, different colors and sometimes the bins are not near one another? If we look to the previous example, there is a clear solution
Bins in St. Johns County before and after the standardized labels.
Solutions to the problem - standardized labels on bins
Recycling can be just as simple if it is standardized across industries and organizations. An organization that is making headway in the arena of recycling is the non-profit, Recycle Across America (RAA).
Founder Mitch Hedlund and her all-female team of superstars are changing the face of recycling one bin at a time through a color-coded system that encourages symmetry at the bin with a visual-focused label to prevent confusion.
Each label is color coded and photocentric with clear and simple images of what is accepted in that recycling or compost bin.
The achievements of this system are demonstrated in the numbers of governments, school districts, and other organizations that have implemented the standardized labels with great success.
A recent successful example is the recent implementation of the RAA standardize labeling system at the U.S. Bank Stadium where the 2018 Super Bowl was held. The standardized labels coupled with, volunteers, and staff on the day of the event helped to recover 91% of the trash by recycling and composting almost 63 tons of the 69 tons of game day waste.
The standardized labels have also proven successful for locations like the Orange County public school district in Florida, the City of Orlando, Orlando International Airport, the State of Rhode Island, and Yosemite, Denali, and Grand Teton National Parks.
Recycling can be successful if done properly. The standardized labels help people act on their good intentions and make it possible for businesses to recycle right and save money.
Recycle Across America standardized labels at US Bank Stadium, home of the 2018 Super Bowl,
and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the 2019 Super Bowl.
Benefits of recycling
Reduces the volume of waste we send to landfills and incinerators
Conserves our precious natural resources
Increases economic security by using domestic sources of materials
Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials
Saves energy and resources
Supports products made in the U.S.
Supports the creation of jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the U.S.
How can I support recycling?
Get familiar with guidelines as provided by the waste hauler
Read the recycling labels before you toss (not all providers accept plastics 1 – 7)
Encourage your business, office, schools, etc. to adopt the RAA standardized labels on your recycling bins
Start a green team or create ambassadors to educate, start and monitor a recycling program
Need help with your recycling program?
Full Circle Natural Resource Management, LLC is a sustainability consulting firm based in St. Augustine, Florida. Experts from this agency can guide businesses on implementing a recycling program, save them money, and reduce landfill waste. Our goal is to create a sustainable future for your organization, our community, and the planet.
*Blog inspired by an article written by David Bornstein for the New York Times and the ongoing efforts of Mitch Hedlund, one of our partners at Recycle Across America.
Sources: US Bank Stadium https://www.usbankstadium.com/stadium-info/sustainability
Recycle Across America https://www.recycleacrossamerica.org/