Recycle & Compost
Until about thirty years ago most waste ended up in landfills or was burned in large incinerators. This practice not only crowds landfills and pollutes soil, water and air, but also represents the loss of great value: materials already extracted from earth’s crust or biosphere and processed for use are sentenced to oblivion where they do little to regenerate new resources and even less to service human needs. As these drawbacks have become increasingly apparent, the wisdom of recycling caught the public imagination. Today, around 10,000 curbside recycling programs serve roughly half of all Americans. These, combined with drop-off and buy-back centers diverts an estimated 30% of the country’s solid waste stream. Still, with a growing population and a seemingly insatiable consumer culture, increased recycling rates are essential for human and ecological health.
As the name implies, recycling is a loop that begins by diverting materials away from the waste stream and back into the manufacturing process. The loop is closed when recycled materials are bought by consumers in the form of new products. By seeking products that embody recycled content, consumers send a message through the marketplace that real demand for environmentally friendly products is growing. There are two kinds of recycled content found in products: (1) post-industrial recycled content, and (2) post-consumer recycled content. Industrial recycled content is waste material from the manufacturing process that is reincorporated into a new product or material. Post-consumer recycled content is material that is recovered from end users, such as office paper or soda cans, and reprocessed for new use. Today it is relatively easy to find office products that embody recycled paper, plastic, and steel. More exotic materials are also being used such as shredded jeans in pencils and bicycle parts in furniture. In general, first look for the highest degree of post-consumer recycled content and then the overall percentage of recycled content with includes industrial material. Finally, if you cannot do better, at least look for products that you know can be recycled in your area.
- Buy the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content available.
- Buy products that also use industrial recycled content.
- Buy products that are themselves recyclable or compostable.
When discarded material is diverted from the waste stream and given new life in a new product, an important step is taken towards sustainable resource management. Today, a wide variety of products and materials are being recycled including automotive products, batteries, construction materials, electronics, glass, metal, organic matter, paint products, paper, and plastics. Unfortunately, even with high public awareness and an established infrastructure for recovery and reprocessing, recycling is still not the ubiquitous phenomena it must be for sustainability. Familiarize yourself with the products that are easily recyclable in your area and make it easy for those in your office to get them into a recycle bin. Also, keep an eye out for items that are more difficult to recycle, such as ink cartridges and batteries, and designate a staff member to take responsibility.
- Make recycling easy by posting signs and placing collection bins next to trash cans.
- Place composting bins in break and lunch rooms.
- Assign a staff person responsibility for products that are obscure or difficult to recycle.
- Set goals for reducing waste by tracking monthly disposal bills.