Can you tell me where the nearest recycling center is?
Do you know where I can send old electronics for recycling?
Do you have a good grasp on what’s actually recyclable?
For most Americans, the answers to these questions are no, no, and not too surprising, no… Despite being less than 5% of the world’s total population, we generate roughly 30% of the world’s garbage. That’s with our rate of recycling and recovery (Both recycling and composting) at roughly 34% as of 2013. That’s a lot of garbage day in and day out!
On the surface, it seems like an easy solution. Recycle more and throw away less, done and done. As you dig however, you realize this problem has many facets to it.
• At the consumer level, more often than not, there’s a lack of education, awareness, and incentive to organize and recycle one’s disposables. Leading to larger landfill contributions and smaller more poorly organized recyclable volumes.
• At the state and municipality level, there are far too many organizations and groups in the game with their own goals, regulations, and agendas to make a sizable impact across the recycling front. On their end, they receive poorly sorted recyclables that take time, energy, and money to re-sort. With that in mind, it tends to be less expensive, in the short run, to primarily use a landfill instead. Once you factor in the unforeseen ecological impacts of dumping, in addition to the cost of eventually having to deal with the garbage itself, then recycling doesn’t look too bad on paper.
• In the corporate realm, many companies are lacking an incentive to switch to recycled materials in house, in their products, and in their packaging. Some companies even attempting to be more environmentally conscientious have reported a lack of recycled materials to even pull from for their packing and shipping materials.
• And many, many, many, more…
Even though recycling progression has all but halted over the last decade or so in the US, there is optimism that we can start implementing strategies and initiatives used by other flagship nations in the realm of recycling. Germany, South Korea, and Sweden are the poster children for recycling. I’ve attached a short article highlighting Sweden’s Zero Waste goal. They use a combination of recycling, composting, and incineration to hit this mark. By no means is any one country perfect. What works for one country may not work for others because of geographical, political, economical, or even scalability reasons. We realize this, we’re engineers. With that said though, we most certainly can pick a choose what works and what doesn’t work to create our own model for recycling efficiency here in the states.
Recycling and reusing materials is not only beneficial for products and manufacturing, it reduces energy expenditure, it keeps our air and water cleaner, it conserves our limited natural resources, thereby sustaining our environment for the use and enjoyment of future generations, and it is has the potential to create many well-paying and high tech jobs and opportunities for the community.
I intend to create some type of recycling project and/or initiative this fall through Landmark Worldwide. My goals are to spread awareness, become an expert in solutions, pitfalls, and hurdles of recycling in the states, educate children to start a systematic shift at the ground level, and last but not least, spark conversations between the many divided parties in the recycling industry to see what we can do about tackling the recycling issue as a community.
As this project takes shape I’ll keep you guys updated on its progress.
Swedish Recycling Revolution – Zero Waste Target
Recycling Facts and Figures
- Tyler Robinson, EIT