By Kevin Bremer
Today, communities large and small will celebrate recycling with America Recycles Day. It is a nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting recycling in the United States. There is plenty to celebrate.
Over the past 30 years, recycling has become a part of daily life in America. It is a virtue that we teach our children.
Today, 90 percent of Americans have access to some sort of recycling, according to the National Waste & Recycling Association. And Keep America Beautiful says the current national recycling rate of 34 percent is higher today than at any time in our history. Without question, recycling is good for the planet and our communities.
In Buffalo, we are working with the local communities and the Buffalo Bills to continue to promote recycling awareness and participation.
At the same time, the way we live and consume as a society has dramatically changed over the past three decades. This has led to major shifts in the nation’s waste stream, or what we throw away and recycle on a daily basis.
From manufacturers’ introducing new product packaging that isn’t recyclable; to the reduction of value in certain recyclables like glass; to the reduction in the quality of certain plastics; to the contamination of recyclables in the recycling bin, these shifts are rendering the business model less economical and putting its long-term viability at risk.
If there is no viable market for recyclables, no one will pay to acquire and reintroduce those items into the marketplace as new products.
It is not unique to our community. In fact, it is a nationwide problem. But we can all work together to make the model work, and it comes down to fixing two things: the quantity and quality of recyclables.
First, before you throw away any materials destined for the landfill, evaluate the packaging to determine if the materials are recyclable. Spending just a few moments evaluating the material can greatly increase the quantity of recyclables in the bin.
Second, make sure the quality of the recyclables is as pure as possible, and free of contaminants that can render other highly valuable material potentially no longer recyclable.
This America Recycles Day, I encourage you to follow three simple steps, or new behaviors, before placing your recyclables in a container:
• Make sure your recyclables are empty of their contents.
• Make sure your recyclables are clean of any residue.
• Make sure your recyclables are dry before placing them in a recycling container.
With empty, clean and dry as a guide, we can each do our part to help reduce recycling contamination, and become better recyclers in the process. Together, we can reinvigorate the economics of recycling and preserve its environmental benefits for generations to come.
Kevin Bremer is the area president of Republic Services, which manages recycling and non-hazardous solid waste.