Happy Anniversary America Recycles Day 2022

America Recycles Day

This year is the 25th anniversary of America Recycles Day, ARD.  It is the only nationally recognized day that promotes recycling in the US. Celebrated November 15th, ARD reminds us of the need to recycle and the positive impact recycling has on the environment, energy savings and the economy. Previous years had campaigns built around a theme, such as # IWanttobeRecycled (2013) and # BeRecycled (2016). The campaigns were designed to show consumers what happens to the collected recyclables and to demonstrate how they are the first link in the manufacturing supply. Keep America Beautiful (KAB), which oversees the program, is providing a toolkit for organizations. It contains “how to” information on sponsoring events and activities for increasing awareness and motivating individuals to make recycling part of their daily life.

Stuck at 34%

Recycling has been an integral component of our waste management system for over 30 years and 94% of the country has access to curbside pickup or drop-off recycling. Yet our recycling rate has remained stagnant at 34% since 2017. “Single-stream” collection was supposed to be the panacea for raising recycling rates. Participation was supposed to increase because all recyclables can be collected together in one container.

However, the experts appear to have underestimated the difficulty in separating the various commodities once they’d been mixed up altogether. Industry expert Johnny Gold likened it to “trying to unscramble a scrambled egg.” Moreover, no one anticipated the development of “aspirational recycling.” Also called “wish-cycling,” it is the practice of tossing questionable items into the bin hoping they can somehow be recycled. Once the rules were no longer as clear-cut, and differed from place-to-place, people started throwing anything and everything into the bin. Thinking it “must-should-could” be recyclable, into the bin it went. So in addition to broken glass embedded in the paper and shreds of paper stuck to the bottles and cans, we now have plastic toys, metal nozzles, carryout “clamshells” with condiment packets, cups with straws, sweetener packets and lemons….you get the picture. Today’s focus is on reducing contamination and “back to basics.”

(Full disclosure – I was never a proponent of single stream and I still advocate for dual stream in which bottles and cans are collected separately from paper).

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the largest lobbying group in the U.S. It is NOT thought of as an advocate for the “green economy.” In fact, until 2019, the Chamber rejected the ,,scientific consensus on climate change. Today, the Chamber’s stated focus is furthering the interests of small business and strengthening America’s competitiveness. To this end, recycling is no longer the exclusive purview of environmentalists and “tree huggers.” The Chamber has acknowledged it as critical to ,remanufacturing and the circular economy.

Our economy is linear. We take natural resources, make a product and discard it when we’re done with it – even if it still is useable or useful. Economic, environmental and societal changes are pushing us to a circular economy.  In a circular economy, materials and products are designed to be more durable, reusable, repairable, and recyclable. This extends product life cycles and reduces waste. Recognizing this, the Chamber’s Foundation has taken action to improve recycling.

Beyond34.org:  Scaling Circularity for a Sustainable Economy

In response to the stagnant recycling rate, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation established Beyond34, a multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at advancing the circular economy in the US. Its mission is to enable communities, cities and businesses to create a more sustainable future through the development of closed loop recycling and recovery systems that divert valuable resources from the landfill by providing a scalable model. Reimagining waste as a resource is the foundation of a circular economy and could unlock an estimated $4.5 trillion in additional economic growth by 2030 by turning waste into wealth, according to research by Accenture cited on the website. Beyond34 began in 2017 in Orlando and Cincinnati and in 2021, expanded to Austin and Philadelphia.

Congress: The Senate and House Take Action

While Congress has agreed upon little over the past few years, the bipartisan Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act of 2022 and the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act were first introduced in March and moved quickly through the Senate. The recycling infrastructure legislation will set up a grant program to fund materials recovery access and transportation. The accountability bill will require new reports to assess processing capacity and end markets for both recycling and composting. Currently the bills are stalled in the House of Representatives.  However, with mid-term elections over, waste and recycling organizations and lawmakers are hoping for passage by the end of the current legislative session for signature into law by President Biden.

Sustainable, Circular and Essential

We’re no longer seeing articles stating recyclables are just trashed, recycling doesn’t work and recycling is a myth. Admittedly, there are problems throughout the process, particularly with plastic. But “recycling” has always existed because of the intrinsic value of the material. In pre-industrial times, there is evidence that bronze and other metals were collected and melted for re-use. Just this week (11/10/2022), archeologists in Dubai found that broken ceramics were recycled into tools 3,000 years ago. During WWII, it was a patriotic duty to recycle, conserve and provide resources for the war effort. In the 1970’s rising energy costs led manufacturers to seek recyclables because they require less energy than virgin materials to make into a product.

In today’s global economy recyclables trade all over the world and many more factors influence pricing. Recycled materials as a manufacturing feedstock meet about 40 percent of the world’s industrial raw material needs, according to the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI).

America Recycles Day…EVERYDAY!

ARD presents an opportunity to educate the proper way to recycle. No more “wish cycling.” It’s important to remember that the recycling “do’s & don’ts” vary between communities.  They may also vary depending on whether it’s residential, commercial or at public events. Be sure to check what’s acceptable and what’s not in your program. Contact us for information on our office recycling programs.