Confessions of a Recovering Recycler

Read the full essay at Waste360.

We are facing a resource conservation crisis. Asia has rejected millions of tons of American cardboard and plastic due to contamination problems. Contamination in the U.S. is high since recyclables are often dumped into one bin instead of multi-streamed or separated from the source. Now, China has strict standards for recycling materials it will accept, requiring contamination levels in a plastic bale, for example, contain one-tenth of 1 percent. The situation is dire for many localities as recycling costs have skyrocketed. Many municipalities have stopped recycling, greatly increasing disposal. 

For more than 40 years, I championed marketing secondary materials as a recycling coordinator, working in towns, cities and regions. I have helped recycle a wide variety of reused products, from tennis balls to motor oil. I have worn many hats to promote secondary end markets. Without finding new economic opportunities for recyclables, it may be discarded. Incorporating some type of lifecycle value to these materials will best manage Cradle to Cradle opportunities.

Being a vanguard for recyclables in a throwaway culture has been challenging. Like lessening climate change, the consequences of not doing so are enormous.

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