Recycling is a deeply rooted value of American communities

Perspectives

By Keefe Harrison, Recycling Partnership Executive Director

Carton Council’s recent consumer study puts much-needed data behind the anecdotal evidence we at The Recycling Partnership see every day:  Recycling is a deeply rooted value of American communities.   Why is that important?  We need the public (including reporters and elected officials) to understand the real recycling landscape and help the industry do what it does best:  deliver American manufacturing the raw materials it needs to make tomorrow’s new consumer goods. Only through collaboration can we further enhance this strong American commitment to recycling. Recycling isn’t the end goal – recycling is the means to a strong environmental and economic outcome.

We all know that recycling results in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, conservation of natural resources, reduced air & water pollution and conserved energy. Recycling Partnership community, Richmond, VA, recently made program improvements that will result in a 10-year savings of more than 300,000,000 gallons of water and 143,000 metric tons of CO2. That’s equivalent to taking 30,000 cars off the road. These are immense environmental benefits that are important to the health and welfare of the American public. That resonates with local leaders, especially when coupled with a corresponding economic message. 

Our public sector friends perk up when they begin to understand information such as South Carolina’s recent report highlighting an estimated $6.5 billion total economic impact to the state’s economy from recycling. Similarly, Pennsylvania reports 3,803 recycling and reuse establishments supporting more than 52,000 jobs, $20.6 billion in sales, and $2.2 billion in annual payroll.

It is important to remember that providing recycling services comes at a cost to communities.  So why then, do communities offer recycling?  At the upcoming SustPack meeting, our East Lansing, MI partners will join us on stage to explain to packaging producers the city’s strong environmental commitment. Recycling not only helps meet GHG savings goals, but it also helps provide a positive conduit between city officials and citizens. 

There is much we can do to support communities as they begin the reverse supply chain that is recycling. The Recycling Partnership’s model was developed to fill that very niche – private sector helping the public sector succeed.

As an industry, recycling is more complex than it’d seem at first glance: lots of players from public to private, narrow margins that get squeezed when market prices fall, a changing world of packaging types.  But it’s also a deeply rooted, nimble, and active industry, one that delivers big returns for the environment, for industry, for communities.  The more that we unify for positive action, the better we’ll further support (and be rewarded by) that strong recycling ethos.