Remember when recycling first started? We had a separate bin for glass, paper and plastic. Or, as I did when I lived in Pennsylvania, we hauled all of the recycling to a recycling area with large containers marked 1, 2, 3, 4, etc., newspaper, and cardboard. We knew where to put each piece. And, although it took a little work, we felt fairly certain we got it all in the right container.
Then comingling came about. Waste Management, the largest recycler in the US, started the idea of comingling way back in 2001. In many of our communities today, we can dump all the recyclables into one bin. Of course it seems that each community and each recycler has different rules for what you may or may not put into these comingled bins. And, if you move to another community, the recycling process may be totally different.
Unfortunately, today, according to David Steiner, chief executive of Waste Management, “recycling is in a crisis”. In her article, Upcycling Honesty, Gina Dempster, discusses some of the pitfalls of comingling our recyclables such as when prices fall on virgin materials, only the cleanest recycled materials will be of value. When glass is ground into cardboard in the compacting process, it may all end up in the landfills.
Recycle Across America recognizes the confusing status of recycling as a critical issue to the recycling crisis. Their new PSA campaign unites brand leaders and celebrities to promote recycling standardized labeling. It sounds simple, and it is! Let’s keep it simple and do it right.
We must all be on the same page to create usable, profitable recycled materials. It is our responsibility as well as the recycling companies to do our part at home and at work. It takes a little work to recycle, so let’s be sure we are doing it right. Please read Gina’s article for some helpful suggestions to find out if your recycler is doing a good job and doing the right thing. The issues she addresses are not only a problem in her local area, but across the globe.
Why do we care if this material is actually getting recycled and not just heading to our landfills? Well, our landfills are becoming landFULLS. According to a recent article in Slate, "In 1986, there were 7,683 dumps in the United States. By 2009, there were just 1,908 landfills (PDF) nationwide—a 75 percent decline in disposal facilities in less than 25 years." We are running out of space and fast. Why else? As Waste Management shows us:
Recycling one ton of aluminum:
Saves 14,000 kWh of energy
Saves 39.6 barrels (1,663 gallons) of oil
Saves 237.6 million Btu's of energy
Saves 10 cubic yards of landfill space
Let's all do our part to save energy, save space in our landfills, and save the planet. And if not recycling - consider upcycling, reusing, and buying less.