How We Can Save Recycling

On the heels of the Paris climate talks in November and in response to recent news about the recent mass closures of recycling centers across the country, nonprofit organization Recycle Across America (RAA) and their partners are hosting two solution-focused events with U.S. brand leaders and celebrities on April 21, 2016 in Los Angeles.

The first event, dubbed the Brand Leaders Solutions Summit, is co-hosted by RAA, 1 percent for the Planet and eleven-time Academy Award winner Participant Media's TV network, Pivot. At the summit information will be shared about the current conditions of the U.S. recycling industry and its economic and environmental impact on businesses and manufacturers. The $200 billion dollar recycling industry currently creates roughly 3 million jobs in the US alone, making it an important -- if faltering -- part of our economy.

RAA and partners will present the standardized labeling solution for recycling bins, which is being adopted by leading brands, including Kiehl's Since 1851, Bank of America, NBC Universal, Whole Foods Market, Hallmark and TerraCycle, as well as counties, airports and thousands of schools nationwide. The benefits of the standardized labels -- including making recycled commodities more price competitive -- will be discussed as it relates to CPG companies and closed loop manufacturing.

To date there are more than one million RAA standardized labels displayed on recycling bins throughout the U.S. at stores, schools, and in public spaces. During the summit, the non-profit will announce the first US State to begin using standardized recycling labels at all government buildings and schools.

For the evening event, a star-studded celebrity PSA photoshoot at Milk Studios in Hollywood, RAA has partnered with Lamar Advertising, who will be donating the use of hundreds of digital billboards across the country. Those billboards will display a celebrity PSA campaign live-streamed from the photo shoot in Los Angeles to locations nationwide.

It will be the first time a live PSA will be broadcast in real time to digital billboards and is expected to result in more than three million PSA ad spots across the U.S.. The PSA promotes Recycle Across America's Let's recycle right! Campaign. Lamar is providing use of the digital billboards at no cost to RAA during the event on April 21st and for all of Earth Week.

"Recycle Across America is extremely grateful to Lamar Advertising, Pivot, Timothy White, all of our brand partners and the amazing celebrities involved. Their generosity will help bring this critical PSA campaign and solution to millions of people nationwide, while also making advertising history! The timing of this event is vital as the recycling industry is struggling here in the U.S., indicated by recent mass closings of recycling plants nationwide, including 200 in the state of California alone," said Recycle Across America's Executive Director, Mitch Hedlund.

Why is recycling collapsing in the U.S.?

There is a widely believed misconception that recycling is collapsing in the U.S. as a result of the low virgin commodity pricing (such of the price of oil) and trends toward mixed recycling systems (co-mingled). Those reasons are certainly factors, but don't represent the entire truth. Recycling and recycled commodity pricing would become far more price competitive and fiscally sustainable -- even during low virgin commodity price fluctuations -- simply by preventing the widespread contamination issue that is causing the processing costs for recycling to be so exorbitant.

Everyday millions of tons of garbage are thrown in recycling bins due to public confusion arising from inconsistent recycling labels and instructions. Consequently it is tremendously cost-prohibitive to try to remove the garbage from the recyclables.

Additionally, some experts have suggested a conflict of interest in the U.S. where many of the largest recycling haulers also own and profit from the major landfills. Therefore, the motivations to improve recycling holistically may be undermined when landfill revenues dramatically increase with the collapse of recycling.

The impact of standardized labels on recycling bins:

RAA's standardized labels for recycling bins have proven to increase recycling levels between 50-100 percent, while significantly reducing the amount of garbage that typically contaminates the recycling process as a result of widespread confusion on what waste to place in which bins. Additionally, in an independent national focus group testing the efficacy and appeal of the standardized labels against a multitude of other recycling labels, the standardized labels outperformed the others, in recycling levels, quality of materials captured, less contamination and greater overall appeal.

While there are certainly many factors to the challenges faced by the recycling industry, perhaps the doom and gloom presented by some, including the NY Times Editorial Section is overstated. With more simple, effective solutions like Recycle Across America's standardized labeling, perhaps we really can save recycling!