How often have you stood in front of a recycling bin and responded much as you would respond if you were traveling through an international airport trying to read signs in a language you didn’t understand? I, for one, will say often.
You think nothing of it when you throw a paper coffee cup into the recycling bin and pat yourself on the back for doing what’s right. But what is intended to be a thoughtful action turns into recycling gone all wrong. You can’t recycle paper coffee cups. You may already know this and roll your eyes at my redundancy. Read on.
Recycling is one way we can help our planet stay green, and yet there are many ways we can mess it up. Compostable items may look recyclable but can only be composted. Plant-based bottles look plastic, so they tend to end up in the plastic recycling bin, but can’t be recycled. Plastic bags contaminate the recycling process by getting caught in industrial machines and slowing or shutting down entire recycling sites for hours at a time. Envelopes can be recycled but with that thin strip of plastic on the front –it’s actually cellulose that breaks down with water- can confuse us on what to do with it. Paper can be recycled, but not paper with plastic coating. You can recycle magazines. White paper is easily sorted whereas color paper causes problems. You’re not supposed to recycle any thin pliable plastics. In all my years of recycling, even writing this out was a great reminder. So how exactly do we get around all of these confusing recycling mishaps?
One organization is tackling this issue head on. Recycle Across America(RAA) aims to streamline the recycling messaging so that we don’t see dozens of different recycling labels, enhancing confusion as we go through our day. RAA offers labels for all kinds of recycling for home, office and schools. When these standardized labels were introduced to the Sony Open in Hawaii in 2015 they saw an astonishing improvement in recycling rates compared to the event in 2014. Four times more glass bottles, 6 times more plastic bottles, and 14 times more aluminum cans were recycled when the labels were used. RAA works with L’Oreal, Kiehl’s, Sony, Bank of America, Whole Foods, among others, to make sure these labels are getting into national school districts. When implemented into the San Diego School District, $200,000 dollars was saved in trash hauling fees! In some school districts recycling rates are doubling. There are nearly 2 million students utilizing these labels and the outcome is clear. Consistent messaging works.
Green Up Our Schools helps schools thrive in making a sustainable difference in their communities. Effective messaging is exactly the kind of thing we look for in our recycling role models. Communicating should be simple. I’ve always loved creating my own recycling labels. But I gladly retire my color pencils and conform. We all need to work together to eliminate confusion and increase our awareness around what can be recycled and where. Lets all recycle right.
Katherine Homes, Green Up Our Schools