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Blog: Recycling Matters: So, What Are We Wasting For™?

By Keefe Harrison

Today I am celebrating Global Recycling Day in Washington, D.C. and reflecting on the progress we have made to improve recycling in the United States. While it’s important to recognize that recycling continues to face market fluctuations and that many local recycling programs have room for improvement, recycling is also a highly valued public service.

We encourage everyone to stop thinking of recycling as a thing with a designated national and international day to celebrate. It’s a complex, loosely connected, highly resilient system that generated $117 billion in economic activity and $13.2 billion in tax revenue in 2017. The recycling industry employs 156,000 men and women nationwide. It also is an increasingly important provider of valuable, energy-efficient materials to manufacturers worldwide.

Many of the opponents of recycling like to focus solely on the economics of collection and sortation. In doing this, they fail to account for the environmental and societal benefits of recycling that are crucial to our planet’s survival. For example, how do you put a value on reduced litter and marine debris that are destroying critical ecosystems around the world? What are the long-term benefits of mitigating climate change with recycling?

The good news is that communities, commodities and corporations are investing in recycling systems around the country.

The United States paper industry has invested $1 billion and counting to expand capacity for recycling paper domestically. Additional industries such as green products and cardboard are also increasing investments.

The Recycling Partnership, with support from our 40 funding partners, catalyzed more than $37 million in recycling infrastructure and education to transform recycling for good in states, cities and communities across America — from Massachusetts to the Florida Gulf Coast to Las Cruces, New Mexico to Central Ohio to Auburn, Alabama.

Just last Thursday, we announced a $4 million grant to assist the City of Atlanta to become the first United States city without packaging waste.

Here are a few of the many stories showing investments in improving recycling in American communities:

Why are communities, manufacturers, material recycling facilities and corporations investing in recycling in the United States? The answer is for many critical reasons.

First, a connected recycling system drives a robust circular economy. Without recycling, we would continue to rely on a linear economy that further depletes the Earth’s natural resources.

Second, recycling properly diverts hundreds of millions of pounds of recyclables from landfills and avoids millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas annually  – creating healthier air and cleaner water at home and around the globe. Recycling 10,000 tons of material saves the energy equivalent of 20,000 barrels of oil and almost 1 million gallons of gasoline.

Third, Americans value recycling. Research shows that consumers want to ‘waste less’ and they expect brands and retailers to do their part. Americans see recycling as a public service similar to police, fire, water and trash collection.

A November 2018 survey conducted by The Recycling Partnership of 2,000 Americans shows that:

  • 73% recycle because it helps reduce landfills;
  • 72% of consumers expect companies that sell packaged goods to make their packaging recyclable;
  • And 62% expect Consumer Packaged Goods to use recycled materials in their packaging.

Brands are responding to what consumers want and are setting ambitious goals for recycled content and higher recycling rates to drive a viable circular economy.

This is NOT a time to be timid. Developing a sustainable recycling system domestically, and eventually globally, is critical to the future of our planet. We must come together as a country and a world leader, as communities, regions, and states, as local businesses and global corporations, and as individuals, a human race, and a planet –  if we want our children, our wildlife, and our world to have a healthy future.

So, what are we wasting for™?