By Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact
Is Recycling Patriotic?
Recycle Bank, a new rewards program that contracts directly with cities to develop an incentive program that actually pays consumers to recycle, is promoting recycling, saying it is “American as Apple Pie.”
They argue that recycling is patriotic and shows “our love for our country.” Nationally, we currently only recycle 30% of our waste. When the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates up to 75% of our waste can be recycled, obviously recycling is not yet part of the American ethos.
I’m not convinced that Americans will recycle more if they are told it is patriotic. Studies on behavior change have shown that Ms. Smith will start to recycle if she knows that her neighbor Mr. Jones is. Good old-fashioned “keeping up with the Jones’” might win out as a motivator.
That said, their article on recycling points out some solid reasons why recycling is a good thing for the planet, including:
- Recycling plastic reduces the need for virgin petroleum-based plastic. By recycling more plastic, we reduce the need for the production of virgin plastic and that reduces our dependence on foreign oil.
- Manufacturing products using recycled materials instead of virgin materials requires a lot less energy. Making an aluminum can from recycled aluminum requires 95% less energy than making an aluminum can from virgin aluminum. In 2003, we reduced our oil usage by more than 15 million barrels by recycling 54 billion aluminum cans.
- Recycling materials also reduces our need for coal – and that protects those purple mountains’ majesty.
- Using less energy also saves money. Saving money, of course, improves the national economy, but the recycling industry has given the national economy a real boost by creating over a million jobs. In fact, a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that jobs in conservation and pollution mitigation (including the recycling industry) make up 65% of the United States’ clean energy economy.
- Recycling reduces the amount of solid waste we need to dump in landfills, which in turn, reduces the need for landfills. By protecting our land from being “filled” with garbage, we’re helping to keep America beautiful.
- Recycling paper protects our forests by reducing the need for trees to produce paper. Recycling cars and other objects made of steel and iron reduces the amount of iron ore we must mine and recycling aluminum reduces the amount of aluminum we have to pull out of the ground.
I personally like EPA’s list of benefits of recycling:
- Recycling protects and expands U.S. manufacturing jobs and increases U.S. competitiveness.
- Recycling reduces the need for landfilling and incineration.
- Recycling prevents pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials.
- Recycling saves energy.
- Recycling decreases emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.
- Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.
- Recycling helps sustain the environment for future generations.
So, along with your hot dogs, sparklers and apple pie, make your independence day a bit greener. Do it for the planet or for your country or because your neighbors are doing it.
Here are a few practical tips for reducing your footprint this 4th of July weekend:
- Buy Products made of Recycled Materials: If you must use disposable products for your BBQ, consider purchasing products made of recycled materials or compostable products. And here is a tip from Time Magazine – give TP made with recycled fiber a try!
- Ban Bottled Water: Skip the bottled water and bring along your own reusable water bottle to the festivities.
- Make it easy: Set aside a clearly labeled bag or can to make recycling easy. If you are not sure what is recyclable in your area, check out Earth 911
- Stop Catalogs: If your recycling bin is stuffed with catalogs you never read, commit 15 minutes of your weekend to reducing the number of unwanted catalogs that come to your house. Two resources that make it easy include Catalog Choice, in partnership with NRDC, or DMAChoice.
A side note on RecycleBank. I noticed on their web site that one of their reward partners is Evian. Does it seem strange to anyone else to be promoting bottled water on a program working to reduce waste?
Deborah Fleischer is the founder and president of Green Impact, providing strategic environmental consulting services to mid-sized companies and NGOs who want to launch a new green initiative or cross-sector collaboration, but lack the in-house capacity to get it up and running. She brings expertise in sustainability strategy, program development, stakeholder partnerships and written communications. And you can follow her occasional tweet at GreenImpact.