Sri Mirajkar, Founder & CEO of SourceRecycle, Inc. wrote this article as part of the Sustainability & Environment Series. Sign-up to write for this series.
Recycling programs took a huge hit in 2020. Even pre-COVID, municipalities were cutting recycling programs due to cost increases or reducing the materials collected, or worse, simply bringing collected recycling to landfills or incinerators.
Adding to the pressure localities were experiencing, in November the U.S. EPA announced, a new and ambitious National Recycling Goal at the National Recycling Summit. That new goal? Increase the national recycling rate to 50% by 2030.
While some state and local governments are truly leading on this effort, most are being dragged toward that goal kicking and screaming.
Want to be a leader? Here are five key items that you should include in your 2021 New Years’ recycling resolutions.
- Start a Composting Program
A compost program is a great way to reduce food waste in your municipal waste loads. By composting, localities can reduce the amount of trash brought to landfills by one-third according to a recent report.
These composting programs can be very flexible. Existing programs range from curbside pickup (along with trash and recycling), to programs where residents bring their organic materials to a centralized location, to programs that incentivize composting at home, thus reducing the need to transport the organic materials. While there are various types of programs, these programs share several characteristics: convenience, affordability, frequency, and education.
It should be no surprise that these same characteristics should be part of your successful recycling program as well.
- Reduce Contamination of recyclables
Contamination drives up the cost of recycling and reduces the chances that materials are recovered and recycled, instead of ending up in landfills. Reducing contamination in the recycling stream helps ensure more material is recycled and results in less material being discarded and higher quality recycled materials produced for reuse. A focus on recycling separation at the collection point increases participation, reduces contamination, and lowers recycling costs.
Easy-to-navigate sorting options, or even smart recycling options, increase convenience and further help to reduce contamination.
- Increase Education/Awareness and Recycling Incentive Programs
Simple awareness and educational campaigns on the importance of recycling can improve citizen participation and reduce contamination. These campaigns can range from a focus on students and school curriculum to signs to go with new collection sites in parks or mailers to residents better explaining how and why to recycle. They can be long-term or focus on some key days, such as Earth Day and National Recycling Day.
Incentivized recycling has been implemented with much success. Aluminum cans and glass bottles can be deposited for awards in cash or kind. Providing awards for recycling will lead to social and behavioral change in our approach and mind-set towards recycling.
- Collect Recycling Data
It is difficult to measure success if you are not collecting data. Metrics on what is being recycled, how much is being recycled and where it is recycled from leads to crucial data analysis to improve collection strategies, conduct environmental awareness and educational campaigns and further improve recycling programs that positively impact society.
The improved data availability and transparency about recycled materials generated will be critical as you tackle the fourth resolution.
- Improve Markets for Recycled Materials
Zero Waste only works if there is a market for the recycled materials. And right now, there is a strong need to improve domestic markets for recyclable materials for use as both manufacturing and packaging materials.
One project for 2021 could be to conduct market development workshops and highlighting the recycled materials you are collecting, educate stakeholders on the value of secondary materials, and identify opportunities for entrepreneurs and startups to help solve your recycling challenges.
You already resolved to collect more and better data, and that will help materials manufacturers find and purchase your recycled materials. But you can also increase the demand for recycled materials by working with your economic development team to draft policies, programs, initiatives, and incentives focusing on using materials locally or focusing on materials with less mature markets.
You now have some simple (and some not so simple) steps to take in 2021 to reduce waste and increase recycling. If you and your community take these five easy steps, you will be well on your way to hitting your 50 by 30 goal.
Sri Mirajkar is the founder and CEO of SourceRecycle – innovative, incentivized, inspired recycling of solid waste. SourceRecycle is disrupting the recycling industry through smart recycling bins with machine learning and improved data collection technologies. Our mission is to provide a sustainable solution for recycling at both the community and consumer level. Our vision is to provide citizens of every city in the USA with a clean, waste-free living space, and to save our planet from the growing amount of waste that is being dumped in our oceans, rivers and landfills. Connect with Sri on email.