The Past, Present and Future of Recycling


The Past – We’ve Come a Long Way!

Past

Recycling has come a long way over the past few decades – in the US there wasn’t a single recycling program in place until 1973 (in The Hidden Past of Recycling you’ll read that the concept of recycling was widely used in the past, however only privately or individually). Now, there are over 8,000 programs in operation. The first ever curbside recycling program in Canada began in 1973, the program initially served 80,000 homes in the Toronto area and eventually curbside programs and recycling centers were all over the country.

While we’ve come a long way since the explosion of the environmental movement in the 1970s, our recycling programs still have a long way to go as a collective group. Keep reading and you’ll see how we currently reduce our waste today and how we can improve our recycling habits in the future.

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The Present – Strategies for Zero Waste

Recycling Blog

Currently the US recycles about one third of the municipal trash (waste generated in homes, schools and non-industrial businesses) and Canada recycles about 21 percent of what would otherwise end up in the solid waste stream. Here are some strategies you can do today that will immediately increase how much you recycle:

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Closing the Recycling Loop

Separating your trash from your recyclables is only one step in the recycling loop – in order to close the gap, manufacturers need to start making more products out of recycled material and consumers need to focus on buying these products. Creating merchandise from scratch is often very harsh and damaging to the environment, the more life that we can get out of a product made from post-consumer recycled content, the better!

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Compost, Compost, Compost!

The amount of organic waste that ends up in landfill or burned in an incinerator is a little alarming – 60 percent of household waste in the US is compostable but only 8 percent of Americans compost. Canada has done a fairly good job on the composting front – as of 2011, over half of Canadian households (61%) had participated in some form of composting. If you have a green thumb, composting is the way to go – you’ll never have a better looking garden in the summer!

And if you’re an enthusiastic early adapter to up-and-coming composting trends, be sure to take a look at The Humanure System, which you can guess from the name, involves recycling your poop—and no, it’s obviously not for everyone…

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Keep the Garbage Bucket as Empty as Possible

Recycling and composting are great ways to keep what’s going in the garbage to a minimum, but there are more ways to stem the garbage cans’ burly appetite. Pre-Cycling is a great way to reduce how much trash your house is sending to the curb – buying in bulk to reduce packaging, using reusable bags, having a refillable water bottle or coffee mug – these are just a few examples of how you can pre-cycle..

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The Future – Strategies to Boost Recycling Rates

Future

While recycling has increased in North America, the amount of trash produced has increased as well. The amount of material recycled today equals the total amount of trash produced in 1960. While recycling programs are a continuing success, experts say in future we should focus on limiting the amount of trash we produce to begin with, doing so will help lower the amount of greenhouse gasses being released into the air.

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Updated and Expended Bottle Bills

Having a bottle bill in place is a very effective way to get people recycling. A bottle bill (or container deposit law), requires a refundable deposit on beverage containers ensuring they are returned for recycling. Ideally, every state should have a container deposit law, but unfortunately only 10 states have a bottle bill in place – many of which don’t include plastic bottles. If more states could enact and expand these laws, the amount of plastics ending up in landfills would drop drastically.

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Manage Electronic Waste

Technology is always changing, and with the explosion of smartphones, tablets and laptops over the past decade, it has meant an increase in the amount of electronic waste that is being produced. In 2011, the US generated 3.41 million tons of e-waste, of which only 850,000 tons were recycled – the rest ended up in landfills or incinerators, the toxic chemicals that electronic components are made from end up seeping into our soil or up in the atmosphere. Businesses that sell electronics are beginning to take responsibility for the amount of e-waste produced, offering trade in programs allowing them to recycle unwanted gadgets – some even give you some money back!

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Stop Using Plastic Bags

This ties back to pre-cycling, but the numbers on how much plastic bags are thrown out versus how many are recycled warrant its own section – 380 billion plastic bags are used a year in the US alone and less than 5 percent are recycled! Plastic made with PET (polyethylene terephthalate, in case you were wondering why we needed an acronym for it) do not biodegrade, they do break down in UV light (photo-degradation), but that can take 10-100 years. That’s if exposed to sunlight, and since most garbage is buried at a landfill, the whole process takes even longer.

Currently, less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled each year. Recycling one ton of plastic bags costs $4,000—the recycled product can then be sold for only $32. We don’t claim to be the best mathematicians in the world, but we’re fairly confident we wouldn’t want to enter into the business of recycling plastic bags for profit.

Efforts are being done all over to get people to ditch the plastic bags, supermarkets offer reusable cloth bags and now charge you for plastic bags, and San Francisco has even flat out banned the distribution of plastic bags in the city. Fingers crossed that these measures are the beginning of the end of the dreaded plastic bag.

This should most certainly be enough information to get your started on your way to recycling stardom. Stay tuned and we’ll fill you in on the sensible, not-so-sensible and downright strange recycling trends that you’ll start to see in the coming years—including, of course, recycling your #1’s and 2’s.

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Matt Bradbury

Written by Matt Bradbury – Sustainability Research Analyst

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ABOUT WIH RESOURCE GROUP

Celebrating a decade in business, WIH Resource Group is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including waste management, recycling, financials, transportation, M&A due diligence and support, alternative fuel fleet conversions, facilities, environmental, energy for private sector business and government clients.

WIH Resource Group is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. WIH Resource Group provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural and social environments.  WIH Resource Group serves clients in more than 175 key markets internationally.

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Are Food & Baby Squeeze Pouches Recyclable?


You’re probably seeing plastic pouches everywhere in the grocery store, especially in the baby food aisle. Portable, squeezable, and spill-resistant, baby food pouches have been a huge hit with parents and kids. Aside from robust sales, companies like them because they protect the food inside very well and they’re versatile, able to hold many types of food.

They are also much lighter than the glass jars that are still standard for baby food. The CEO of Plum Organics, which produces a super popular line of baby food pouches, estimated that nine times more fuel is needed to ship glass containers compared to the pouches, and compared to glass, the pouches occupy just 1/14 the amount of space in a landfill. It sounds like the pouches are a sustainable packaging option, but that last point — that pouches occupy space in a landfill — is an important point.

MORE: Sili Squeeze reusable food pouches

Millions of these pouches are being sold, and millions of them are ending up in landfills.

Pouches, like the ones often seen holding baby food, coffee beans, and snacks, typically consist of layers of different materials laminated together. Materials could include polyester, aluminum foil, polyethylene, Mylar, paperboard, and more, plus spouts, caps, or zipping mechanisms of various plastics. Some of these materials are recyclable on their own, but they are fused together in the pouch and very difficult to separate, and therefore very difficult to recycle.

Curbside recycling programs don’t accept these laminated mixed-material pouches, and mail-in or drop-off programs are limited, being mostly available on a manufacturer-by-manufacture basis. Baby food pouches from Earth’s Best, Ella’s Kitchen, and GoGo squeeZ can be recycled through a free Terracycle mail-in program. Capri Sun and Honest Kids drink pouches also can be recycled through a free Terracycle recycling program. Plum Organics pouches aren’t recyclable, but they’ve partnered with Preserve to recycle the caps.

The best way to avoid sending unrecyclable food pouches to the landfill is to invest in a reusable pouch, like the BPA-free ones from Squooshi. Like reusable containers that hold your lunch, reusable pouches provide convenience and closely resemble the disposable ones, with the added benefit of being used over and over again, saving you money and preventing waste.

Published by: WIH Resource Group, Inc.

SOURCES
Packaging World, Freedonia, RecycleBank

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Bob Wallace, MBA is the Founder and a Principal of WIH Resource Group, Inc. and has over 27 years of experience in waste and recycling collections programs management, transportation / logistics operations, alternative fuels (CNG, LPG, RNG, LNG & biodiesel), Fleet Management, Operational Performance Assessments (OPAs), Waste-by-Rail programs, recycling / solid waste operations, transfer stations, landfills, planning and development. Mr. Wallace has extensive experience in working with clients in both the private and public sectors. Prior to WIH Resource Group, Mr. Wallace served as the Director of Transportation & Logistics for Waste Management, the largest provider of waste management and recycling services in North America. He can be reached at bwallace@wihresourcegroup.com or 480.241.9994. For more information visit http://www.wihrg.com

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NATIONAL RECYCLING COALITION (NRC) LIMPS INTO CHAPTER 7 FILING


On the heels of the failed vote to merge with Keep America Beautiful (KAB), the National Recycling Coalition (NRC) Board voted to pursue a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, ending the organization’s 30-year run as the nation’s largest non-profit recycling advocacy organization.

“This really is a very sad day for an organization that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves,” said Bob Gedert, executive director of the California Resource Recovery Association and NRC Board member. “We need to acknowledge the truly heroic efforts of everyone who worked so hard to make this organization work as long as it did.”

Despite reluctantly voting in favor, Gedert had advocated a plan to bring the organization into Chapter 11, in order to maintain bargaining power and confidence with creditors and donors.

However, the vote to pursue a Chapter 7 filing is not the end of NRC’s money problems. At the end of the September 2nd business day, the organization had approximately $619 in cash on hand. With legal fees associated with pursuing a filing in the tens of thousands of dollars, some board members have offered to personally donate the funds necessary for the organization to move into bankruptcy court.

Of additional concern was the fate of America Recycles Day. Just prior to the vote to pursue the bankruptcy option, the board unanimously voted to not accept an offer from KAB to accelerate the final payment of $50,000 on the advice of legal counsel. Several board members were concerned that America Recycles Day could be undervalued in the current KAB contract, thus the board will try to pursue a higher value in bankruptcy court.

In the comment period following the conclusion of the board vote, some members expressed hope that the organization might be reborn following the bankruptcy process.

“It might be easier to build a new organization and a new donor base if we are not saddled by [NRC’s] obligations,” mused David Struhs, International Paper’s vice president of Environmental Affairs.

Outside the board, reactions differed:

“The Board is saying that there is hope to rebuild NRC, but I don’t see it happening once this message is sent out,” said Amy Perlmutter of Perlmutter Associates. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to donate time or energy to an organization that is dissolving. I do not understand why they couldn’t put [the decision] off for 30 days to find a pro bono attorney to file Chapter 11, or to try and implement some of Bob [Gedert’s] plan.” 

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Seattle Public Utilities Solid Waste Collection Contractors Begin Receiving Compressed Natural Gas Garbage Trucks


McNeilus Companies, Inc., has delivered the first of 144 new Cummins Westport powered Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) refuse trucks to the city of Seattle, Washington. The two contracted fleets servicing the Seattle Public Utilities Contract selected McNeilus to provide the refuse vehicles. The purchases are part of a statewide initiative to cut vehicle emissions in advance of the 2010 federal emissions requirements. McNeilus expects to deliver the remaining CNG vehicles in late March 2009. Contractors Waste Management, who purchased 106 of the CNG trucks, broke ground on a refuelling station to service the fleet as well as making public sales of CNG. Cleanscapes, the other Seattle PUC contractor will take delivery of the remainder of the vehicles.

“Alternative fuel vehicles help McNeilus customers to reduce their fuel bills in a difficult economy and creates a positive impact on the environment,” said Mike Wuest, Oshkosh Corporation executive vice president and president, Commercial. “With CNG, customers not only get a greener vehicle, but they also experience benefits to their bottom line with an economically viable alternative fuel.”

Recognizing the nationwide move toward environmentally friendly refuse collection, McNeilus has begun offering a turnkey solution for haulers looking to migrate to CNG-powered vehicles. Customers who purchase CNG-powered chassis can have the CNG system installed as the body proceeds down the assembly line at McNeilus. McNeilus has installed a CNG fueling depot at their factory in Minnesota to further streamline the process.

Source: International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles (IANGV)

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Pending Bill on Renewable Energy Omits Huge Source


American Loggers Council (ALC) Position: Clearing biomass from nation’s forests will keep them healthy
Despite pending federal legislation that promotes renewable, clean energy and creates new jobs, hard-working people in rural areas are being denied the promise of a green economy, according to the American Loggers Council (ALC).

Unemployed loggers all over the country could have a future in sustainably gathering and selling tons of clean-burning woody biomass to power plants were it not for the fine print in The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 that’s now under consideration in the House of Representatives. The harvesting of woody biomass involves collecting stems and wood waste from the forest or stands of beetle-killed wood – but the Act excludes 60 to 70 percent of biomass sources in the U.S. simply because the biomass lies in federal and certain private forests.

“Woody biomass is not the cutting down of old-growth trees,” said ALC Executive Vice President Danny Dructor. “A sustainable biomass industry will keep our forests healthy and provide clean energy and green jobs.”

While it commends Congress’ commitment to renewable energy, the ALC is committed to educating Congress about the true benefits of woody biomass harvesting:

  • Reviving small-town economies
  • Creating a viable, proven source of renewable energy
  • Reducing the risk of catastrophic forest fires by removing dead and dying trees and the waste that provides fires much of their fuel
  • Fighting insects that destroy forests by thinning dense stands and removing the waste in which pests breed.

Throughout the U.S., the closing of mills has devastated small-town economies that once relied on logging. In Oregon, 30 percent of loggers are currently unemployed and many rural communities reliant on forestry now suffer from almost 20 percent unemployment — more than twice the national average.

“Here in Minnesota, counting loggers and spin-off jobs from mills, unemployment in our industry’s probably 60 percent,” said logger Jerry Birchem, of Virginia, Minnesota.

But Birchem has found his own solution through harvesting woody biomass. Not only does he own a wood pellet plant, providing a clean energy solution for his area, but he also gathers and sells woody biomass to a power plant.

“I saw some of the economic trends for logging a few years ago,” Birchem said. “And if it weren’t for biomass, I’d only have half the work I have now. The popular position used to be that there should be no harvesting of anything, and it seemed like they’d rather have forest fires, but I don’t think that’s the mainstream view anymore.”

Like Birchem, third-generation logger Scott Melcher of Sweet Home, Oregon, saw an opportunity to diversify his business when he decided to collaborate with another local businessman to collect and haul the biomass to a utilization center instead of piling it up trailside and burning it.

“I looked at it as a challenge and a way to position Melcher Logging at the forefront of biomass utilization,” he said.

So logging does have a future and there’s a big economic stimulus waiting to be had for rural economies and everyone else — in creating renewable energy through woody biomass.

The ALC urges Congress to change the fine print in The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 to include all biomass sources. By harvesting biomass in compliance with federal, state and local laws, the nation’s federal and private forestlands will experience huge benefits in the prevention of catastrophic forest fires, the preservation of wildlife habitats and the protection of critical water resources.

“Logging communities have been economically devastated,” said Jim Petersen, co-founder of the non-profit Evergreen Foundation, and publisher of Evergreen, the Foundation’s periodic journal.

Whether things can turn around for the logging communities depends on the government. “They have to get serious about biomass,” said Petersen.

“One thing that’s important for people to understand is that forests grow; that’s what they do,” he said. “There will always be biomass, and collection of biomass could keep loggers going forever.”

News Source: American Logger Council

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