Today, Nov. 15, 2017, is the 20th anniversary of America Recycles Day, a Keep America Beautiful national initiative to raise awareness about the value of recycling.
While most people agree that recycling is good for the environment, America Recycles Day is an opportune time to stress that recycling is also good for our economy and our communities.
Through America Recycles Day, it’s our aim to teach Americans the importance of recycling right – recycling clean, uncontaminated materials correctly – and to encourage buying products made from recycled content. And while more than 70 percent of the population has access to recycling, the number that actually participate is much lower.
Consider that 20 years ago, 217 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) were generated and 58.6 million tons – 27 percent – were recycled or composted. More recently (2014 is the most recent data available), more than 258 million tons of MSW are generated annually, and the nation has a 35 percent recycling rate with 89 million tons being recycled or composted. With more than 130 million tons being landfilled, considerable opportunity remains to recover material and keep it in the economy as a feedstock to make new products.
Twenty years after the inaugural America Recycles Day, we find ourselves in an interdependent global economy, in which recycling and the use of recycled materials plays a significant role. The China Ministry of Environmental Protection’s July filing with the World Trade Organization announcing a ban on certain scrap imports has put our domestic recycling markets in a state of flux.
It is true that we still need to increase recycling participation in the United States, while continuing to promote reduced consumption. It is also more critical than ever that we produce a cleaner stream of recyclables, and promote the purchase of products and packaging made from recycled materials. By focusing on improving the quality of materials entering the recycling stream – and enhancing efforts to educate consumers – we can deliver lasting economic benefits to communities nationwide.
In addition to building efficient and affordable recycling infrastructure, we can create a domestic feedstock for manufacturers and support those manufacturers through the purchase of their products. Those systems are within our ability to support individually and create both economic and environmental benefit. Convenience and knowledge are critical factors for individuals to more easily and effectively engage in the act of recycling, whether at home, at work, at school, or on-the-go. So, too, is an understanding that their efforts to recycle and to Buy Recycled make a difference.
There is good news. Consumers value and want to recycle – they recycle more than they vote – and they are interested in purchasing goods from companies using recycled content. This demand has grown eight percent since 2012, according to Natural Marketing Institute’s Consumer Trends Database. In addition, based on Keep America Beautiful and NMI’s recent Consumer Recycling Tracker Survey, 44 percent of all American adults are interested in what companies are doing to use more recycled content in their products and packaging.
Much work is underway by government, municipalities, industry, and nonprofits to re-establish greater focus, improvements and opportunities for the next generation of recycling. Through the simple act of recycling and buying recycled products, consumers can create the momentum that helps invigorate the materials markets and fills the supply chain with recycled materials. That, in turn, can fuel manufacturers, and other industry innovations.
Twenty years ago the message behind America Recycles Day was: “Keep Recycling Working. Buy Recycled.” Today, the message is no less important. On the 20th anniversary of America Recycles Day, we remind everyone to find out what can be recycled in your community – continue to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” – and when you buy, Buy Recycled. Finally, we encourage you to take the #BeRecycled Pledge and commit to living a recycled lifestyle.
President and CEO
Keep America Beautiful
Robin K. Wiener
Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI)
Executive Director and CEO
Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA)