New Blog Post: Recycle Often. Recycle Right.

That’s Waste Management’s message to our customers, neighbors, and broader community of stakeholders. It’s much more than a simple refrain.
Mar 10, 2014 3:00 PM ET

Thinking Green

That’s Waste Management’s message to our customers, neighbors, and broader community of stakeholders.  It’s much more than a simple refrain.

Forty years ago, the recycling challenge was about getting people and businesses at the grassroots level to embrace a new way of discarding waste. We started bundling newspapers, sorting out plastics and glass, and resisting the old habit of throwing everything in the garbage.

That was then. The good news is that we’ve successfully hammered home the “recycle often” half of the equation. Today, many communities have even mandated aggressive, long-term, zero-waste goals to divert sometimes up to 90 percent of their waste from the local landfill. And, as Anne Johnson pointed out in her piece for (Beyond Curb Assessing True Recyclability) we have so firmly engrained “recycle often” in the public consciousness that the Federal Trade Commission allows any product to be marketed as unqualifiedly recyclable if it’s sold in a market where a “substantial majority” of consumers have access to recycling facilities. But, as Johnson also points out, what’s missing is a true understanding of how a package will “behave” in a typical material recovery facility and whether there is a viable end market for that package.

Johnson’s larger point is well taken. Having won the public’s support of recycling often, we must now add a key element: we must recycle right. Recycling is getting more complex with changing material streams.  A fundamental requirement for “recyclability” is that a material must have enough value (i.e. a market) and volume to make it worthwhile to invest in the equipment and process of recycling it. Let’s take plastic PET bottles. They make up a small portion of the overall waste stream but PET has a high value and it is worthwhile for recyclers to invest in technology to separate this material for recycling.  Conversely, the cost to recycle glass exceeds its value and has increased the overall cost of recycling.  Yet, because glass is so heavy it makes up as much as 25 percent of the material collected for recycling in some communities. Thus, in spite of the upside down economics, we continue to recycle glass

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