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The Evolution Of Recycling

September 19, 2010
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Sustainability and green initiatives are more prevalent than ever before.

An increasing number of businesses, buildings, property managers and agencies as well as local, state and national governments have all implemented guidelines and programs surrounding these initiatives.

Perhaps the most well-known and easiest to execute has been recycling.

Look Back, Then Forward

We have been recycling in this country in some way, shape or form for more than 60 years.

But it''s only within the past 15 years that we''ve seen recycling grow — and it is steadily increasing.

The municipal solid waste recycling rate tripled from 10.1 percent to 33.4 percent in 2007 (the current national rate goal is 35 percent).

The increase in recycling can be attributed to two primary factors: An increased awareness of the environmental impact of waste disposal, especially as our waste generation per capita and total populations have grown and the continuing development of the business case for recycling.

The result is an elevated demand for recycling products and programs that are not only easy to use and aid in maximizing recycling rates, but also add value to building owners and managers pursuing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Procurement Guidelines compliance and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Winning Plan For All

Recycling products and programs driven by the needs and wants of consumers are solutions that accommodate the person depositing the waste into the receptacle, the professional who empties the receptacle and manages the waste stream, the waste hauler and the materials recovery facility.

And, because one influences the other, what the haulers and materials recovery facility collect and reprocess is just as important as the products being used to collect these materials.

The goal for all facility managers is to have solutions that enable end users to work smarter.

In recycling, it''s no wonder trends are leaning toward the desire to have recycling stations that permit centralized recycling but are adaptable to suit the varied needs of end users.

Another trend taking greater shape is the desire to purchase a complete recycling solution rather than individual products.

Many successful recycling initiatives address everything from communicating directly to those who are recycling to assisting the professionals who manage the waste stream and helping facility managers pull everything together, from purchase to set up.

End users across all segments have options to choose from once they understand what they are required or able to recycle.

The product choices, then, should be driven by what best fits the needs at hand.

In an office environment, for instance, paper may be the main recyclable.

In this case, desk-side recycle bins should be considered along with a cube truck to manage emptying the bins.

In a retail setting, multi-stream recycling stations may be more appropriate to handle multiple recyclable types.

Choices don''t stop at product type because variables such as material choice — recycled content, material type and durability — and procurement guidelines should be taken into account.

The ability to customize solutions to meet end user needs is another variable that should be considered as it ensures the recycling solution is able to achieve maximum recycling rates while remaining easy to use.

The ability for recycling solutions to communicate effectively is also critical.

As the most immediately noticeable green initiative, standard blue and/or decorative recycling containers with familiar chasing arrows communicate responsible practices and make recycling easier.

Signage positioned with recycling stations also calls attention to the recycling program and allows the facility to engage recyclers with messages about the facility and its commitment to sustainability.

Over the past four years, the growth in the recycling rate has climaxed around 35 percent.

It is possible to continue to improve that rate, particularly as individuals increasingly adopt recycling habits that include recycling items they did not previously recycle.

In the end, that improvement will be driven in part by improved recycling products, processes, programs and communications.

Jarret Chirafisi is the product manager — utility refuse and sustainability team leader for Rubbermaid Commercial Products. For more information about RCP, visit

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