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In past years, the market for recycled goods was booming. China was buying much of the worldwide recycled goods, giving commercial property operators a lot of incentive to invest in recycling programs.
But recently, things looked very different. China cut consumption of recycled goods. With the recent downturn, many building owners and facilities managers began asking whether recycling programs are more trouble than they’re worth.
As we enter 2020, the good news is the market for recycled goods is primed for a rebound. As the Chinese exit the market, North American companies are investing in new fiber mills or expanding operations to fill the gap. Along with this are plenty of reasons to invest in a recycling program as preparation for what’s ahead.
Here are five reasons to put recycling on your radar:
1. Recycling is becoming the law, with participation requirements varying from place to place.
Half the states currently have some kind of recycling law on the books, 10 states have bottle bill laws and eight states have passed some kind of plastic bag ban. Cities are also getting in on the act. Ten cities have passed their own plastic bag bans and some cities have passed ordinances for composting food waste.
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If you operate a facility in a jurisdiction with some kind of recycling requirement, you could face fines and penalties for violating your local recycling laws. Compliance becomes even more complicated for companies that operate facilities in multiple jurisdictions because laws vary from one region to another. It is worth the time to find someone well-versed in local recycling requirements and working with city hall can save a lot of money and hassle when it comes to compliance.
2. Recycling reduces your carbon footprint and helps fight climate change.
Recycling is something positive you can do to reduce energy consumption, which in turn helps combat climate change. Recycling decreases the need for virgin materials in the manufacturing process. When an item is recycled, rather than disposed of as trash, it can be reused in the manufacturing process instead. Virgin materials require larger amounts of energy to be mined or extracted, and typically require more energy in the manufacturing process compared to a recycled material.
Implementing a food waste recycling program is another excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint. Food waste can be converted to compost, which is great for enriching soil, but it can also be converted to compressed natural gas to operate vehicles or provide electricity. In 2017, the EPA estimates that 41 million tons of food waste was generated, but only 6% was diverted from the landfill. Food waste makes up over 20% of all waste that reaches the landfill. We need to minimize the overall amount of food that is wasted, while simultaneously diverting organic waste from the landfill to reduce greenhouse emissions.
3. Recycling is good for community relations.
Recycling also establishes you as a community leader and instills good will among local residents. In addition, cultivating a reputation for environmental awareness can differentiate your property from facilities that suspend their recycling programs or don’t have one at all. This benefit can increase your company’s reputation, even positively impacting consumer behavior.
According to research from Nielsen, “brands that are able to strategically connect (sustainability) to actual behavior are in a good place to capitalize on increased consumer expectation and demand.”
4. Recycling promotes economic growth and innovation.
The construction of fiber mills is just one way recycling stimulates the economy. According to a 2016 study conducted by the EPA, recycling generated 757,000 jobs, $36.6 billion in wages and $6.7 billion in tax revenues in a single year. When these mills are complete, there should be an increase in demand, thus raising the commodity price for paper.
Recycling also stimulates technological innovation. Several years ago, the recycling industry committed to increasing consumer participation by consolidating recycled waste during the disposal process. However, making things easier on consumers meant that recycling plants took on the task of sorting glass, plastic and other recycled materials themselves. To process the high volume of recycled goods, plants are using artifical intelligence to develop photo-optic eyes that can automate the sorting process. Although your facility isn’t directly involved in developing this technology, you are promoting innovation by implementing and maintaining a recycling program.
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5. It’s much easier to maintain a recycling program than to restart one from scratch.
When a facility scraps its recycling program, employees get out of practice sorting and disposing of recycled goods. By practicing good “recycling hygiene,” you ensure that your employees—and your program—are ready to support your facility’s environmental and economic goals.
What Can You do to Promote Recycling?
If you’ve decided that an active recycling program makes sense for your facility, there are a number of things you can do to promote it.
One of the best ways to increase participation is to educate your tenants on the proper rules for recycling materials. With the best of intentions, tenants may deposit something in the recycling bin even if they’re not sure it can be recycled, assuming it will get sorted out at the recycling plant. However, even one non-compliant item can contaminate an entire truckload and send the whole haul to a landfill.
Having a bin system to separate materials and posting clear, easy-to-read signage in multiple languages is another important step you can take to make your recycling program a success.
Another option is to hire an expert to manage things for you. A third-party expert can take over the disposal and hauling of your recycled goods and educate your tenants on proper recycling procedures, allowing you to focus on your business. If you do hire an expert, make sure they’re familiar with local recycling requirements so you don’t unintentionally incur fines for non-compliance.
The environmental and economic benefits of recycling provide ample incentive to invest in a recycling program. Armed with knowledge of recycling laws and the proper procedures for disposal, you can still turn your building’s waste into a golden opportunity as the market for recycled goods rebounds.
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About the Author:
John Slovik is the Northwest Regional Manager for RWS Facility Services responsible for developing, implementing, and managing waste and recycling programs for the company across the western United States.