Recycling in Review, 2013

On November 15, 2013, President Obama issued a proclamation officially establishing November 15th as America Recycles Day. He went on to say, “I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate programs and activities, and I encourage all Americans to continue their reducing, reusing, and recycling efforts throughout the year.”

While it’s nice to see recycling get national recognition, the president’s recognition of recycling isn’t an end-all-be-all to all our problems regarding waste.

With this in mind, right now is the operative time of year to look back at the state of recycling in 2013. How can we measure and analyze our tangible progress? Here’s what we should be asking:

In terms of recycling advances and legislation, how does 2013 compare to other years? Did we accomplish everything we set out to, did we fall short, or was it a mixed bag? What more can we do going forward?

With 2013 nearing the rearview mirror, let’s review the past year in the world of recycling and see how we did.

2013 in review graphic

Well done, NYC!

New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg stepped up and announced a food composting initiative for the Big Apple. First, a composting facility near the city will be constructed where food scraps will be converted into biogas, which will help power the city and help lower electricity costs. According to the city, 150,000 homes, 600 schools and 100 high-rise buildings participate at the program’s launch, and hopefully, the entire city will be on board by 2016. Not a bad start.

E-waste: a mixed bag

The good news: electronics waste legislation accounted for over 10 percent of all solid waste bills introduced in 2013. The bad: there was a general lack of major e-waste legislation last year.

Still, there were some positives in the realm of e-waste in 2013. New Jersey, Mississippi and Washington all updated and added to their current e-waste laws, and on a national level, the House of Representatives introduced the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, a total ban on exporting certain e-waste materials. While this could be a major step forward, the bill is still in the preliminary phases.

Textiles: a little expansion never hurts

Slowly but surely, curbside textile collection is growing in U.S. cities. It started in the early 2000s like Minnesota-based EurekaRecycling, and 2013 saw new programs emerge in Arizona, Washington, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Retailers like H&M and The North Face have embraced textile recycling, too; both stores have rolled out in-store bins for patrons to recycle any clothing, not just their own brand.

California’s admirable goal

California released a report with some of the most ambitious recycling goals of any U.S. state: to achieve 75 percent waste diversion by 2020. The goals of the initiative are “protecting public health and safety, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, expanding manufacturing infrastructure and bringing green jobs to California, reducing government costs for hard-to-manage waste, increasing renewable production of energy and fuel and reducing reliance on unstable export markets.” Read it here.

Looking ahead to 2014

This year saw a good amount of positive action in the recycling world, but living in the past won’t help ensure a greener future. If we look back and consider 2013 a pretty good year for recycling as a whole, what more can we do to make 2014 really good, or even—dare I say—great?

Embrace Innovation

We’ve come to expect incredible technological advancements for entertainment, transportation and medicine, to name a few, but why not recycling?

Such technology already exists, actually—it just hasn’t’ garnered mainstream attention. Swedish industrial designer Mehrdad Mahdjoubi has developed a closed-loop shower that saves 90 percent in water usage compared to a regular shower (and 80 percent in energy usage, too). The shower, called the OrbSys, purifies water and immediately cycles it back into use, reducing water usage while also keeping it warm, reducing the need to reheat.

The literally-space-age OrbSys shower (similar systems already exist on space stations) is merely one example of recycling technology that should be embraced, not regarded as an impractical, far-off contraption. The same goes for prototypes for edible food packaging and smart bins. Twenty years ago cell phones were a novelty; now we walk around with mini computers in our pockets. We need to accept a similar attitude toward recycling technology if we want to see greater advances.

If there’s something to be learned from the past year in recycling, it’s that recycling will go as far as people take it. That means getting onboard with organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council and lobbying local government on behalf of recycling, and, of course, doing more to recycle in our everyday lives.

Will 2014 see an all-out technological recycling revolution? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for it.


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