Changes in the Recycling Industry
Big things could be around the corner as China has instituted their National Sword Policy - reducing the level of accepted contamination in recycling coming from overseas. In our home base of Minnesota, that is less of an issue as we have a fair amount of local and regional markets who take our recyclables and make them into new products.
California is a different story. Resource Recycling recently had an article that stated "About 85 percent of mixed paper and OCC (old corrugated cardboard) exported out of California has been bound for China in recent years" and that "62 percent of the (15 million tons) of exported material went to China in 2016". What that means is that millions of tons of recyclable materials could be heading to the landfill. Read the full article here.
Do your part. Know what recyclables are accepted by your hauler. Implement standardized signage from Recycle Across America at your schools, churches, offices, sports fields, etc. so that we can give everyone the chance to #RecycleRight. And let your elected officials know that environmental causes and green jobs are important to you and to our communities!
Need Event Recycling? Check out the Minnesota Recycling Bin Program!
There is a program available to help maximize your recycling collection at events throughout the State through the rental of additional recycling containers for your venue or event. This service is supported by the Minnesota Beverage Association and their bottling members, to help increase recycling rates throughout Minnesota. Bins are available from as few as 20, up to 250, and boast the Recycle Across America standardized signage. Partner up to help enhance your program’s recycling goals!
Get a customized quote here.
Wish-Cycling is the desire to recycle everything possible, even if it's not actually recyclable. The Minneapolis Star Tribune just had an article on these lofty recycling behaviors. See more HERE.
One of the challenges of this industry is that often MRF's (Materials Recovery Facility) accept different materials. And that even though some things are recyclable - say plastic bags - it doesn't mean it can go to the same facility.
Plastic bags are a great example. They are 100% percent recyclable. However... they totally mess up sorting machines. Eureka Recycling in Minneapolis has stated that they spend hours, HOURS, everyday, with the MRF machines down, picking bags out of the system.
So. Thank you. Thank you for wanting to do the right thing. For hoping that all of your materials end up as new items to be used again and again. But the best line of defense...
When in doubt, throw it out!
Did you know the recycling symbol was designed by a 23 architecture student as part of a design competition? And was only meant to represent paper and cardboard recycling only.
Contaminated streams are expensive to manage, have a high loss of valuable material because it's dirty, and cause equipment failures.
We engaged Recycle Across America in our work with the Minnesota State Fair because we believe in their process. Consistency. And signs that make sense.
Now in our third year working with the Minnesota State Fair, my business partner Mark (with Connect Ecology) and I did what we do best - pulled together diverse partners to create a project with tangible environmental results, and cost savings for our clients.
The partnership connected the MN State Fair Foundation with resources from the MN Beverage Association and American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America to increase the amount of recycling containers available for attendees by nearly 85%. From 435 containers in 2015, to 795 containers this year - 260 of them with updated signage. More access to containers, with clear messaging means more materials collected. And with a record setting attendance for the 2016 Fair, we hope for impressive results.
The partnership also saw the value in partnering with in Recycle Across America for the clear, consistent, nationally recognized standardized signage, teaching people to recycle right. If we see the same messages at each bin, in every city, it creates a consistent comfort in knowing how to properly sort. Creating a clean stream for processing (ensuring all items are recycled and not rejected) creates valuable material to be returned to the bottlers, who are vey interested in using post-consumer plastics whenever possible.
The project garnered 11 media stories - drawing more attention to the importance of recycling. Click here to read one of them!
Every step counts. There are always ways to improve. Increased access and visibility to recycling led the way this year. Keep an eye out for bigger things to come!
May 1-7 is the US Composting Council's International Compost Awareness Week.
This years theme focuses on the benefit of water conservation of compost. The International Compost Awareness Committee chose this year's theme to bring attention to the role of compost in healthy soil to address growing drought and food insecurity issues across the world.
Follow the US Composting Council on Twitter - @USCompostingCou - for more information!
For me, Earth Day is every day. I spent the celebrated Earth Day (April 22) teaching elementary students at Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial School about compost, with Full Circle Organics.
Lake Crystal began collecting organics for recycling at the beginning of the school year. Earth Day was an opportunity to connect with each student and explain the industrial composting process to them. We brought examples of the nitrogen (greens) and carbon (browns) and the finished compost, showing them what's happening to their school lunches.
Organics recycling is starting to be more widely available throughout the state of Minnesota. Full Circle is one of the largest processors, with sites in Becker, Good Thunder and Shakopee. They also offer depackaging and preprocessing - allowing organics diversion from a part of the waste stream that previously wasn't able to be addressed.
If you don't currently have organics recycling, ask you hauler and call your city representatives. The more you ask, the faster it will happen!
On January 1, 2016, businesses in the Twin Cities (13 county metro) will be required to recycle at least three items. While this won't be new to some, it will be a change to others. See an update from Emily Barker from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, via our friends at Environmental Initiative!
November 15th is America Recycles Day. It is a day to celebrate our nation’s progress in recycling, but also reflect on its problems. The New York Times op-ed written last month by John Tierney sparked outrage nationwide and received a whopping 487 comments on the web. Although there are MANY holes in his arguments and he seems to express an opinion against recycling, John acknowledges there is a lack of incentives for recycling in America.
An Economist article published in April discusses the state of recycling in America. Companies want to use recycled material, but it is costly compared to virgin material AND there is a low supply. The country’s recycling rate has been stagnant at 34% for 2 decades. Americans THROW AWAY $11.4 billion of recyclables per year, even though recycling an aluminum can emits 95% less greenhouse gas emissions.
Let's face it, America, we have a recycling problem.
Recycling has great economic, environmental, and community benefits, SO let's do something about it! When you throw something in the recycling bin, you are consciously making an effort to reduce your carbon footprint. This great ad campaign by Keep America Beautiful captures what could happen if we simply closed the loop-
It’s not complicated. You don’t have to rally your politicians or stop using your car. We just have to put materials in the right bin AND tell your friends and family to join. For America Recycles Day, take the pledge here.
And on November 15th, find a way to increase your personal recycling rate by reusing waste in some way, bringing food residue to a compost drop-off site, or making signs on your garbage bin that read- "Can I be recycled?"
And that, America, is how we RECYCLE.
When you buy a $3 box of cereal, you are purchasing more than just 6 to 7 bowls of sugary goodness. You are purchasing the packaging, which includes the box AND the plastic bag inside the box. The other month there was a sale on Malt O’ Meal brand cereal and I decided to give up my General Mills loyalty to try them out. But these "Spooners" come in a bag, so I also gave up the box.
Malt O’ Meal started a campaign called - Bag the Box. It is exactly what it entails. To reduce packaging waste, their cereals are in a sturdy plastic bag instead of a box. Check out this video:
But that’s not all Malt-O-Meal (MOM) is doing to reduce packaging waste. If you take a look at their cereal bags you will find, next to the “Bag the Box” label, the TerraCycle label.
The international company’s slogan is “Eliminating the Idea of Waste”. Their mission is to turn common waste materials, like MOM brand cereal bags, Clif Bar wrappers, and applesauce pouches, into innovative products. The first step is to select the “brigade”, then gather the materials, and ship them to the nearest collection site where they will be creatively reused. The MOM products brigade is shown below:
More information about TerraCycle can be found here.
This is just one example of a company's successful waste reduction campaign, but there are ways that you, as a consumer, can reduce packaging waste. Here are some ways to REDUCE packaging waste with your groceries:
skip the individually wrapped snacks - chip bags, cheese sticks, granola bars, apple sauce pouches, juice cartons - although these are easier to use, especially with kids, try using reusable containers, bottles, and bags
buy in bulk - (this saves $$$ too)
purchase loose produce ... and reuse your produce bags
avoid Styrofoam at all costs
opt for brands, like Malt O’ Meal, that use less packaging
In the hierarchy of waste management, reduction is ranked as the highest priority, above reuse and recycling. You can start making reduction a priority in your home starting with the grocery store.
Today, after a yummy lunch, I walked out of Everest on Grand and spotted a blue and yellow sign on the window that read - “Bicycle Benefits” 10% off!
The restaurant was a member of a nationwide organization, Bicycle Benefits, that provides bikers a discount at participating businesses. By purchasing a 5$ sticker and placing it on your helmet, you can receive discounts at coffee shops, grocery stores, or the florist simply by riding your bike.
In economic terms, biking is a positive externality, an activity that indirectly benefits society. By choosing not to drive their car, bikers are reducing global carbon emissions. In the ideal world, we would pay bikers to keep biking, or subsidize bike riding. And that’s where Bicycle Benefits come in.
The organization is raising awareness about the power of bike riding by offering bicyclers a reward at local businesses, similar to a subsidy. Consumers respond to incentives: BOGO, SALE, clearance, and so the signage is also growing a bike revolution.
Participating shops and cafes value the importance of bicycling, and are willing to give up some cash to offer discounts to those who ride their bikes. You can check out the Twin Cities participants
And hop on your bike for a free coffee! You deserve it :)
On September 24, 2015, Environmental Initiative held a press conference with Mayor Chris Coleman and representatives from St. Paul Port Authority and MN Pollution Control Agency. The star of the show? “Becky Sue”, a 38 year old diesel tugboat that is due for a makeover.
For 10 years, Project Green Fleet, a program of the Environmental Initiative and the MPCA, has worked with businesses, government, and nonprofits to retrofit diesel vehicles. These trucks, boats, and buses contribute to 50% of Minnesota’s air pollution affecting the health, economy, and environment of the state. Since its start, the project has upgraded 3,284 school buses, 1,304 trucks, and other heavy-duty vehicles with a total reduction of 27 tons of particulate matter emissions each year or 500,000 cars off the road annually.
Soon, “Becky Sue” will have two new diesel engines reducing air pollution equivalent to removing 12,000 cars off the road each year! Project Green Fleet relies on public and private investments to support this work and hope to double their efforts with more projects.
Is there a “Becky Sue” needing an upgrade in your city or county? Push local government to look into the maintenance of publicly funded fleets and push businesses to pursue possible equipment retrofits. These actions can add to the new and improved eco-fleet of Project Green Fleet.
BAGNADO. You may have met this monster if you visited the Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair, but if not, catch a glimpse of the news story here. The tornado represented the number of plastic bags thrown out in the state of Minnesota within 5 seconds.
This adds up to 87,000 tons of plastic bags dumped in Minnesota each year, a loss of $7 million worth of recycled plastic, and potential job growth in plastics recycling. There is more to this issue than the environmental consequences of burning plastic. Growth in the recycling industry can build the economy.
California cities and Hawaii counties have banned plastic bags, and other states, like New York, Delaware, Maine, DC, and Rhode Island have adopted legislation to incentivize recycling of plastic bags. And Minnesota? Currently, St. Louis Park is in the process to ban plastic bags, but have received pushback from business owners at recent hearings.
Even if a plastic bag ban is far from the horizon, BAGNADO should inspire us to make a few small changes-
say no to the bag when shopping
buy reusable bags for produce
bring your own jars when purchasing bulk items
collect your plastic bags at home to recycle
Although, most likely your home recycling collection service will not accept plastic bags, many grocery stores in Minnesota, like Target, Rainbow, Kowalskis, and Cub, have bins to recycle them.
And eventually BAGNADO will be history.
I've been posting on Facebook more than here, but the information is worthy of sharing!
The past few years of work have been centered around waste - be it managing materials on a tv commercial sets, donating large custom props to keep them out of the landfill, helping the MN State Fair assess their front-of-the-house waste, to working with commercial entities and institutions to implement organics collection.
Every little thing counts. I've noticed more recycling containers around the Minneapolis park systems and lakes and curbside organics recycling is just about roll out in Minneapolis!
Here are some links regarding waste initiatives around the world that make a difference:
Germany. A grocery store that translates to "Original Unpackaged". The entire store is package free!
The Take Away did a great piece about Dan Barber, the executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Sleepy Hollow, NY. The restaurant makes no waste! Scraps are made into special lemonades, veggies burgers are made from peels and pulps. Innovation creating no waste, and food people didn't know they wanted!
Clothes made from ocean trash and other plastic waste!
Can Can Wonderland, mini golf and artist-created amusements: an economic engine for the arts, in St. Paul, recently received nearly 60 PVC tubes from EcoSet Consulting. This is one example of EcoSet keeping custom prop built for one meeting out of the landfill, giving materials to artists, and showcasing that reuse is also good for the budget!
I participate in a Waste Collaborative group through Environmental Initiative - a Minneapolis-based non-profit that builds partnerships to find solutions to environmental problems. This group consists of a variety of businesses (health care, recyclers, grocery stores, food producers, manufacturers), non-profits and public organizations. It provides a space to share best practices, challenges, innovative solutions, and business connections.
The last meeting was about zero-waste initiatives and included a tour of the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center - or HERC - which is right smack in the middle of one of the most vibrant areas of downtown Minneapolis - the North Loop.
The HERC serves Hennepin County and processes 365,000 tons of waste per year. That averages out to six pounds of waste per person, per day (yikes). This doesn't include construction and demolition or yard waste, which are processed at other facilities.
On average, HERC burns 3,000 tons of waste each day. Trucks dump on the tipping floor, and the waste enters the pit, which holds 7,000-10,000 tons, before being craned into the burners. For kids that love diggers and machinery - running the crane would be a dream job!
The burning process is highly regulated for emissions, and HERC continues to come in well under their authorized emission rates. The onsite burning (at 1,500-2,000 degrees!) in huge, multi-story ovens, provides 31 megawatts of energy to Xcel - heating Target Field and several other downtown businesses. Recovered heat from the Cooling Tower is used to heat glycol tubing underneath the Target Station Pavilion, which means no snow removal required (no need for staff and no need for chemicals).
The tour is open to the public and I encourage everyone to go see it. I'm trying to do what I can to help people actually see what we produce - to get the trash out from behind the building. 7,000 tons of trash sounds like a lot - but seeing it burns that image into your mind!
We can do better than six pounds of waste per person, per day. We can use what we now think of as waste as a resource. Limit purchasing. Be thoughtful about packaging. Choose recycled content items. Compost.
Pay attention to what you're producing and know where it goes after you're done with it.
It's amazing how things change as you get older ... especially the things you get excited about. For example, I received a surprise, already installed new toilet for my birthday a few years ago and it remains one of my all time favorite gifts!
I felt that giddy excitement with the City of Minneapolis roll-out of single sort bins for recycling, which I almost always fill to the top - as a single person. That excitement continues for the City of Minneapolis organic collection. Although I am disappointed the bins are small, and that my house isn't on the spring 2015 map, I'm still proud that steps are being taken to change the way we address waste.
I've been participating in commercial grade composting at home for about a year now, dropping the bags off at a site not far from home. It's so easy and so remarkable. I'm down to about one plastic-sized Target bag of trash per week. It basically just contains product wrappers. Between that and bags of dog poo, everything else is composted or recycled! It's so satisfying.
I wish that my amazing green bin would arrive sooner, but until then, I'll continue to drop off compost. Better yet, I'll continue to work with companies big and small to help them achieve the same sort of excitement that comes from progress. I urge you to do the same.
I recently finished reading Edward Humes' "Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash". Working in this industry, I was assuming it would cover a lot of information that I already knew. It did. But I was also blown away by several sections of this book.
In addition to siting the Environmental Protection Agency's 249.6 million tons of trash (in 2008), Garbology also pulled in research from Colombia University and the journal BioCycle, which has "more accurate, scientific surveys". This research reviews that we're sending "twice as much waste to landfills as the EPA's calculations let on, and recycling proportionately far less than the rosy official stats suggest", or 389.5 million tons.
We have to start getting trash out from behind the building. It's too easy for people toss their bags in and have no idea where it goes.
We are in denial about our dirty little secrets.Waste certainly isn't sexy. But there is so much potential to change the way we consume.
Be thoughtful about what you buy. Be thoughtful about how you dispose of things. Reuse and Repurpose as much as possible. And as a last resort, recycle and compost.
Read this book. Or several other good ones out that. Take a little time to be aware.
In the past few weeks, a few stories have come out highlighting companies repurposing materials in interesting ways, such as Jet Blue - they've been collecting their used uniforms and are saving 18.5 tons of fabric from the landfills! And then there is Repurposed Materials in Denver - their entire store is made up of repurposed materials from pool covers to fish netting.
Over the past few years, with I've been able to work on similar projects - keeping interesting items out of the landfill with a little creativity and industry connections. Projects have ranged from scraps from t-shirts that needed the logo's destroyed that turned into hundreds of new onesies for mom's in need by Bundles of Love in Minneapolis, a decommissioned hot air balloon donated to an environmentally focused apparel non-profit for a design contest in Minneapolis, a jumbo hanger used during an event now draws people into the Dress for Success office in San Antonio, and scraps of wood from an industry product launch that now make up part of an indoor skate park in Brooklyn.
So much waste is added to the landfill every day. With a little time an effort, there are so many alternatives to this practice! But let's not forget to try to reduce consumption first.
Native Sustainability, in collaboration with Made, is working with the Minnesota State Fair to assess the probability of all trash cans being converted to compost cans. That switch could save the Fair more than $50,000 a year, as well as provide amazing educational opportunity about organics in the waste stream.
Minnesota Public Radio did a short piece about the initiative. Read it here!
I also did an interview with Environmental Initiative regarding the efforts. Many thanks to the EI staff members who helped us with day one of sorting!