America’s sustainability experts gathered Tuesday at the 2014 SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas, to discuss the future of the country’s evolving recycling needs.
Experts and attendees brainstormed the balance of expanding American recycling with preventing contamination in the waste stream as part of the panel “Recycling More vs. Recycling Right in America,” moderated by Sharon H. Kneiss, president and CEO of the National Waste & Recycling Association (NW&RA).
The discussion centered on the publicly inconspicuous issue of waste stream contamination, which can reduce the efficiency and financial vitality of recycling systems. One in five Americans admit to placing items in recycling bins even if they are unsure if the item is recyclable. When contaminants such as plastic shopping bags infiltrate recycling systems, they can damage equipment and dilute the quality of recycled products, decreasing their value.
“Managing contamination in the waste stream is the central concern to improving American recycling systems,” Kneiss said. “While strengthening recycling programs is a high priority, we also must improve the quality of recycled commodities and promote a public understanding of the economics of recycling. SXSW Eco presented an important venue to discuss these issues.”
“For recycling to thrive, the concept of ‘waste’ must shift,” said Brenda Pulley, senior vice president of Recycling for Keep America Beautiful. “It is important that we see our water bottles, our soda cans, and our cereal boxes as valuable materials that can be manufactured into new products that feed the economy. When an individual connects the dots between the empty milk jug that they recycled to the recycled plastic bench in the local park, they understand their “garbage” can have another life.”
The panel featured known experts on recycling, including H-E-B Grocery Company’s Susan Ghertner, director of environmental affairs; Phil Bresee, recycling director for the City of Philadelphia; and Brenda Pulley, senior vice president of recycling for Keep America Beautiful.
Bresee noted, “SXSW ECO provided a great opportunity to share some of Philadelphia’s story and perspectives with thought leaders and activists from all over the U.S. The issues we discussed aren’t just important in Austin and Philadelphia, but to recycling worldwide.” The panel occurred one week after Austin expanded its Universal Recycling Ordinance to cover an additional 1,000 businesses and residential complexes.
The panel discussion was followed by an NW&RA-sponsored site-visit to Texas Disposal Systems’ (TDS) waste management complex. Attendees visited—among other sites—a modernized recycling materials recovery facility, an organic composting facility and a land reclamation project, featuring an exotic wildlife preserve home to animals from six continents.
The National Waste & Recycling Association is the trade association that represents the private sector waste and recycling services industry. Association members conduct business in all 50 states and include companies that collect and manage garbage, recycling and medical waste, equipment manufacturers and distributors and a variety of other service providers. For more information about NW&RA, visit www.wasterecycling.org.
About Keep America Beautiful
Keep America Beautiful is the nation’s leading nonprofit that brings people together to build and sustain vibrant communities. With a national network of community-based affiliates, we work with millions of volunteers who take action in their communities to transform public spaces into beautiful places. Through our programs and public-private partnerships, we engage individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community’s environment. For more information, visit kab.org, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or view us on YouTube.