For recycling in general, the major barriers for increasing recovery rates are access and education. In other words, people need to understand what can be recycled and where. While most of us quickly become familiar with recycling programs at home, we may experience different programs at work and in public venues. Or worse yet, we may not have access to recycling in some places.
For paper products specifically, the US is at an all time high recovery rate. In fact, paper recovery increased by 1.2 million tons in 2011, lifting the recovery rate to a record-high 66.8 percent. That’s up from 63.5 percent in 2010 and 33.5 percent in 1990.
Digging deeper into data reveals that printing and writing grades lag behind other products like corrugated containers. As an industry segment, we can, and should do better. While some paper products can never be recycled (e.g. hygiene products like bathroom tissue and towel) all of Sappi’s coated fine papers can and should be recycled. And 87% of Americans have access to curbside or drop-off paper recycling programs. So recycling of magazines and catalogs is not limited to access, but perhaps simply by awareness. For this reason we are strong supporters of recycling education and outreach and encourage corporate marketers and graphic designers to use “please recycle” claims and logos on all printed pieces.
If you are unsure whether something can be recycled the best solution is to seek out information rather than err toward landfilling. Resources like earth911.com can help identify recycling facilities.
When I make presentations to corporate marketers, my first call to action is to ask them to consider using a “please recycle” claim or logo on printed pieces. We all need to do whatever we can to encourage recycling and keep paper products out of landfills. Collectively our efforts are increasing recovery rates for paper.
But for those of us not in corporate marketing, here’s a simple way we can all make a difference: keep your plastic bags out of single stream recycling bins!
Whether you have curb side collection or are dropping recyclables at a collection center, you need to keep those bags out of the bins. The bags are recyclable, but they really need to be collected separately. Plastic bags wreak havoc on separation equipment at material recovery facilities (MRFs). And I got to see this first hand on recent visits to two different facilities.
In addition to the challenges related to bags, I also saw the following items pass by on a conveyor belt: a string of Christmas tree lights, gym socks, and a bag of grapes. Really? Come on people. It’s not that hard.
If you don’t know what is or isn’t recyclable you can usually find the information by searching for your local municipal recycling facility. And if you have something that can’t be collected curbside there are recycling drop off centers for almost everything: electronics, batteries, books, clothing, construction materials, etc. Earth911.com is a great search engine for finding collection sites nationwide.
I am absolutely not advising that you put your plastic bags in the trash. Many retailers (most grocery stores) have collection boxes for bags. So if you take just one thing away from this message that’s it: keep plastic bags out of your recycling bins and recycle them separately.