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    Surprising Secrets About America Recycles Day

    America Recycles Day is today. Woo, recycling.

    Recycling is something that was emphasized to me since I was a wee little lady. Let me state for the record: I recycle every product I can and keep waste out of the landfills. But is recognizing America Recycles Day really a celebration and motivator to Americans? Does it further the green ‘exhaust’ problem? Or is there a dark, greenwashing secret lurking behind that recycle symbol?

    America Recycles Day: Good Intentions?

    The America Recycles Day sponsors include Anheuser-Busch, America Chemistry Council (Plastics Division), Keep America Beautiful, Waste Management, Johnson & Johnson, Rubbermaid, Amcor (packaging), and the Home Depot. Does any of these companies care about recycling? Or as Treehugger mentions, is it more-so to thank us for keeping plastic out of gutters so it can be downcycled into lesser products?

    The message of the “America Recycles Day” only focuses on recycling. The ‘plastics make it possible’ campaign encourages recycling all of your plastics. However, there’s no mention of buying reusables and reducing your waste by not buying crap you don’t need. Why? Because the companies behind America Recycles Day make profits from disposable products. And they don’t want to be accountable when it can be all based on you. Just watch this clip that explains a little more:

    Check the website. There’s even an entire section on plastic bag & film recycling. Do you see a single mention of reducing your plastic bag use or refusing a bag (and BYO’ing instead)? Spoiler alert: Nope.

    The Problem with Recycling

    Recycled goods leave your apartment or home curbside to go to a recycling sorting facility. I visited the Waste Management Philadelphia facility early this year, which is essentially where goods are sorted. After sorting, products are condensed into large compacted squares of cans, plastics, glass, etc.

    What happens next? The materials are shipped overseas to China or India, where products are often remade into goods that are shipped right back here for a new life.

    What’s wrong with that?

    Unfortunately, there have been instances of poor conditions of recycling facilities overseas reported. Another problem is that products aren’t often made in the same form but downgraded. Just check the examples from the America Recycles Day Website:

    • “A plastic bottle can be recycled into new containers, t-shirts and fleeces, park benches, plastic lumber, and playground equipment.”
    • “Plastic bags are recycled into fences, decks, and shopping carts. (While not collected at the curb, many retailers across the country collect dry-cleaning, bread, and newspaper bags along with grocery bags).”

    Notice that plastic bottles aren’t recycled into new plastic bottles? And plastic bags are recycled into fences, decks and shopping carts? How many raw materials are still used every time more plastic bottles and bags are created from scratch – especially when these two products have sustainable, awesomely reusable versions in reusable stainless steel cups and canvas bags? I have been using the same 2 Kleen Kanteens for hot and cold beverages for over a year. (I occasionally have left one behind and had to purchase a new one, or otherwise, I’d have the same Kanteen for 4+ years going strong...)

    Please: don’t quit recycling. Nothing is 100% ‘green’, as there’s always a side effect. But reducing the amount you recycle first is crucial.

    Who’s Behind Keeping America Beautiful?

    Keep America Beautiful is a US nonprofit founded in 1953 in response to highway litter. The organization was established by businesses including Philip Morris (tobacco), Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola. What do these organizations have in common? Shocker: once again, all manufacturing products that all began to market disposable bottles.

    Some experts have called Keep America Beautiful a greenwashing corporate campaign, created in response to Vermont’s bottle bill. The bottle bill would have required a deposit at point of purchase, encouraging the consumer to return the bottles back to the grocery store. This was JUST the idea that was the subject of an infamous Seinfeld episode:

    Instead, corporations created anti-litter campaigns like the crying Native American to pass on the responsibility of disposing of products ‘properly’ from the corporation to consumer. Ironically, the bill was created in 1953… the same year KAB was founded.


    Crying Indian - Keep America Beatiful
    Source: Wikipedia

    Keep America Beautiful also refuses to engage with any potential of recycling (or other green) legislation and resists changes to packaging. Although we love civic engagement, legislation is critical to making significant changes.

    Recycling: Only Part of the Solution

    Let me state for the record: Recycling is an essential component of sustainability in America. As the Philadelphia Recycling Director Phil Bresee told us, Philadelphia has increased recycling 200% since 2007. Recycling reduces the need for brand new, raw materials (that can be mined or extracted from the earth, often through complex and damaging processes). It saves money, creates jobs and reduces the amount of stuff going to landfills.

    Sustainability success has other crucial “R” components (borrowed from the above Treehugger post):

    • Reduce: Don’t take crap you don’t need
    • Reuse: Purchase products that you can use again and again. Buy one quality product instead of 5 cheap ones from the $1 section.
    • Repair: Electronics, clothes and other goods before buying new ones.
    • Rot: Put your leaves, food parts & other into compost piles. Use that for your garden, which is the best ‘fertilizer’ available for soil health.
    • Refuse: Don’t take sh*t you don’t need. Free promotional plastic crap, flyers, etc. If you have a smartphone, scan information.
    • Refill: Give bottles back to local producers (if they accept them) and give your old farmers markets/CSA boxes & containers back to them.

    “Recycling” is only one part of the equation, although it’s a critical part. Hopefully, the day will help the entire sustainability cycle become a part of everyone’s lives, not just recycling.

    Readers, what are your thoughts on America Recycles Day?

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    Julie Hancher

    About Julie Hancher

    Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake.

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