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Together We Can Prevent Recycling from Further Collapse in the U.S.

By Mitch Hedlund, Founder and Executive Director of Recycle Across America

You probably know this already, but it’s worth repeating. Recycling is truly the #1 action society can do to simultaneously improve the environment and the economy, create jobs, improve manufacturing, conserve fresh water, reduce CO2 levels, reduce energy use, mitigate climate change, protect finite resources as the human population continues to grow exponentially — and protect waterways, oceans, sea-life and the food chain that we all rely on.

In other words, recycling is a HOME RUN in the game of life – when it’s done properly.

What you might not know however, is that right now recycling in the U.S. is starting to collapse. In fact in the state of California alone, more than 450 recycling plants have shut down in the past 12 months.

Many have stated that the cause for the collapse of recycling in the U.S., is due to the low virgin commodity pricing coupled with the trend of mixed recycling; but that’s not entirely true. The real culprit for recycling failing in the U.S. is the inconsistent and ineffective labeling on recycling bins which is causing the public to be confused, apathetic and even skeptical about recycling. As a result, people are literally throwing millions of tons of ‘garbage’ in recycling bins each day, which is crippling the economics of recycling and therefore causing recycled commodities not to be able to compete with low virgin commodity pricing. The confusing labels on bins throughout society is creating a negative domino effect on the efficacy, economics and quality of recycling – and therefore, preventing manufacturers from being able to use recycled commodities.

If you need further proof, take a moment to look in any trash bin and recycling bin at the airport, your work, at your children’s school, or anywhere in public. What you’ll see is, often the contents inside the trash bin and the contents inside the recycling bin look identical – garbage in both and recyclables in both.

Here’s a look at what recycling currently looks like for the public:

Good news…there is a very simple nonprofit solution from Recycle Across America (RAA) and it’s working: society-wide standardized labels for recycling bins. For a simple analogy, imagine road safety and the economics of transportation and distribution of goods if there weren’t standardized road signs, stop signs or even standardized lines on the roads.

The society-wide standardized labels for recycling bins are the #1 solution to help society recycle right.   The standardized labels often dramatically increase recycling levels (often 50-100%), dramatically reduce contamination levels and significantly improve the profitability of recycling, thereby increasing the demand of recycled commodities by manufacturers.

Who is using the standardized labels? Some of the most notable brands in the world are starting to use the standardized labels on their recycling bins i.e., The Disney Companies, Bank of America, NBC Universal, Subaru, The National Parks, Sony, Hallmark, and Whole Foods Markets, as well as states, cities, airports, counties and 6,500 schools and universities throughout the U.S.  Currently, nearly two million standardized labels are being used on recycling bins ­­­… and they are working!

Also, corporate heroes are helping the next generation recycle right and helping schools save money! To date, Recycle Across America has been able to donate 650,000 standardized labels to K-12 public schools throughout the U.S., thanks to great corporate donors such as Kiehl’s, Bank of America, Whole Foods, and Sony.

And the impact of those corporate donations of standardized labels to schools, is a game changer! For instance, when Kiehl’s donated the standardized labels to San Diego Unified School District, the school district’s recycling levels increased so much that they were able to save approximately $200,000 in landfill hauling fees (net savings) in their first.

When all of the schools in the Orlando Public Schools (OCPS) began using the standardized labels thanks to a donation from Bank of America, the recycling levels of the schools increased 90% and the school district saved nearly $370,000 in trash hauling fees.

When the University of Denver began using the standardized labels, their contamination levels decreased more than 90% and their recycling levels nearly doubled.

Students excited about the free standardized labels for their school’s recycling bins. (Photo courtesy of Las Virgenes School District, California)

To help advance the mission of the standardized labels and to help society understand the benefits of recycling, Recycle Across America has launched a celebrity led PSA campaign called “Let’s recycle right!” To date, Recycle Across America has nearly 50 celebrities on board with the campaign and RAA has received nearly 8 million dollars in free advertising space across the U.S. thanks to great partners such as Lamar Billboards, Participant Media, CNN Airport News, USA Today, Green Gale Publishing, and others.

To learn more about the standardized label movement for your city, business, school, recycling business, home or organization, please visit:  www.RecycleAcrossAmerica.org

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