Saturday, January 17, 2015

Keeping Up On Recycling: Why More Stuff is Recyclable

Caution::  I am going to get on my Recycling Soap Box.

Local Recycling and Working around "No-No Lists":
Recycling in many cities is simple, with a blue bin given to each house and a list available of what to put in it.  But what about the thousands of items that aren't allowed in the blue bin?  Many of these items on the city's recycling 'no-no list' could be recycled, but are just not accepted by the municipality's recycling center.  The reasons for this vary, often a case of cost, demand, or volume issues.  The truth is, though, waste management is becoming more than one companies' business, and those 'no-no lists' are being tackled by corporations, manufacturers, and consumers to allow for more and more recycling and less landfill.  Here is a brief review of why things are becoming 'yes-yes' recyclable and how to help keep the recycling movement going.

Producers Learning To Produce Less Waste:
Due to the growing awareness of waste and its effects on the environment, many alternatives for handling waste are being implemented by those that make the items to begin with.  The concept of Product Take Back, where businesses that profit from the items sold are held responsible for those items' eventual disposal, is gaining acceptance by both consumers and producers.
Many companies are stepping up and providing a redemption/recycling options at their physical store locations. Batteries and light bulbs are taken at Batteries&Bulbs stores.  Electronics are taken at Best Buy.  Shopping bags are taken at many store fronts, and, well, the list goes on.  Consumer websites like and are resources developed to help connect consumers to these types of programs.

Other companies are striving to create products that have less demand for resources throughout their life cycle, including their eventual disposal.  For example, credit cards and gift cards are now ubiquitous with 'christmas' and 'birthday', but their one-time-use makes their original hard plastic material (unfriendly PVC) problematic.  In response, recycling methods developed, such as Retailer Gift Card Return Programs, initiatives that encourage consumers and retailers to send back zero-value gift cards for recycling into earth-friendly, reusable sheet material.  Simple recycling of PVC like this, though, is a stop gap method (as the PVC is turned into more PVC products that are then landfilled) and has gotten more difficult to do as others companies forged ahead with materials that can't be mixed with PVC.  Target, Apple and others have started making their gift cards from bio-plastics, plastics derived from plants designed to degrade/compost after use.  These are supposedly using less resources and energy in their manufacture, as well.  Still other companies look at the simple 'look' of the card, making gift cards that become ornaments, or are thinner, or smaller shapes with hollowed interiors.  Even more to the point, many companies, like Apple, are promoting e-gift cards, where the card info is sent to a valid email and no plastic is required.

Another aspect of design that is improving is engineers 'closing the loop' for their products.  When a product reaches its "End of life", it is considered no longer useful, be it something like one-use dixie cups, packaging, or software/hardware which is no longer marketed, sold, or sustained (RIP Windows XP - *sniff*.)  Design can be used to make the end-of-life of a product a planned event.  An item is kept in play by being designed to be either compostable/recyclable, repairable/upgrade-able, or by being durable enough to simply continue working.  Consider take-out food containers, which don't need to survive longer than the ride home.  Items like this, with short use, should be designed to be easily recycled or biodegrade quickly and harmlessly.  They compost and become soil, or cease to take up space in the land fill.  Other things, like furniture, cars, or jackets, should be built to last a lifetime - that 1950's formica-topped metal table is still around, but what about the desk you bought at Walmart?  Didn't survive college, did it?  By playing with materials, design, and construction, more and more engineers and designers are working to create 'real good' goods, not ones 'designed for the dump' with short life spans and heavy resource demands.  Technology is a growing problem, because it lies somewhere in the middle of these two 'required life spans'.  As tech is always improving, old tech becomes obsolete with impressive speed.  These issues engineers are handling by trying to create upgradable and more easily repairable items, or at the least coming up with accessible designs, which assist in removing usable parts from an old machine for reuse.  Programs are developing to rate their success, such as EPEAT, and greener electronics that don't use the chemicals or hazardous materials are being demanded by different consumer groups.

Still other companies are working to infiltrate the waste stream on its way out.  In many places in Europe, a system called 'Green Dot' operates within the waste stream, sifting out and ensuring the recycling of products that producers have pre-paid to have handled as such.  Due to EU law, even those not participating in Green Dot have to have some similar structure that redistributes the cost of disposal/recycling back to producers of such packaging.  Italy has a packaging recovery scheme called CONAI, in Denmark and Hungary a packaging tax is applied, Finland uses the symbol (PYR) to designate compliance, and Switzerland has special systems for each type of material.  I find it sad there isn't more activity like this in the US.

Product Take Back, End-of-Life design and redesign, and required financing of product disposal are just some of the ways that coalitions, governments and companies are stepping up to do better for consumers and the environment.  These are all steps in the right direction, but in the end, it is still up to us, the consumers, to be hyper-aware of what issues need to be fixed and actively support further steps to be taken.  It is up to us to utilize the systems of recycle or reclamation that are developed while encouriging more.  Most importantly, it is up to us to keep the pressure on others, be it family or senators, and educate and empower everyone to work together and do better for our future.

Thank you for reading, I will get off my soap box now.  Next Recycling Soap Box discussion: How Consumers Can

No comments:

Post a Comment