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Recycling and Dumpster Diving: A match made in land fills

recycling tote bagI teach an introductory lab on environmental issues and one lab that we do every semester is to visit the local recycling center. So this means that over the last 4 years, I have heard the same talk many, many times. Each time, we talk about what is recyclable, what isn't, how the recycling center works, and so on about recycling in general. This got me thinking about recycling in terms of retailers and larger businesses, rather than just individual consumers.

Most recycling programs focus on convincing individuals that they need to be recycling. That is great, because any recycling is good. And the more we recycle, the more economically beneficial it is, and therefore the more we can recycle. But I want to focus on retail and business recycling programs.

Recycling Programs

Before we get into business recycling practices, let's talk about recycling a little bit. Some recycling centers do single stream, whereas others do dual or multi stream. This refers to how the materials enter the recycling center. Single stream means that all recyclable materials are deposited together and sorted at the recycling center. Dual or multi-stream recycling requires the individual recycler to sort the materials before depositing them at the center.

And no matter whether the recycling center is single or multi stream, they only want the materials that they can actually sell. This means that not all materials can be submitted everywhere. Most often the reason certain materials are not recycled is because the recycling center cannot make money off of that product, like glass or styrofoam egg cartons. If they do not receive enough of the recycling no-nosmaterial to offset the costs of separating that product and transporting the bales, then they probably will not accept the material. And anything that goes to the recycling center that isn't recyclable just ends up in the landfill.

The other topic that I don't think people contemplate is the effect food has on the ability to recycle items. Recycling centers do not want food with the materials that they collect. What this really means is that if you have a half-full container of butter, you should just trash it unless you are going to remove the leftover butter before putting it with the recyclables. Because if you do put that half-full container of butter in your recycling, it is likely the butter will get all over everything in the truck before actually reaching the recycling center. And then everything in the truck will just end up at the landfill because it is no longer recyclable.

So my little tidbit here is to make sure that you find out what materials your recycling center accepts. Find out how they want you to separate those materials for them. Making their job easier helps us make sure that as much gets recycled as can be.

Green Businesses

Most businesses these days make being green at least somewhat a priority. The reason behind this is probably due to marketing advantages with federal guidelines, but I would hope at least some businesses actually want to be green. What it means to be green usually has to do with the materials and resources used as well as the disposal of waste.

Using recyclable materials is super awesome, and proves a commitment to preserving the environment by not just continuing to use resources. Using renewable energy sources also suggests a commitment to environmental welfare, by reducing the damage caused by using fossil fuels. The best part is that these practices usually reduce costs for the companies that employ them. Renewable energy most often reduces energy costs in the long run. And recycled materials are becoming cheaper and cheaper. And these practices often encourage consumers to use green businesses.

So what do we know? Consumers these days want to use recycled products. We want the companies that we support to use recycled materials. We care how the businesses that we associate with feel about the environment. And therefore, we want the companies to care about preserving the environment. As a part of this, we also want to know that those businesses are disposing of their waste in an environmentally friendly way. And so, we end up supporting green businesses over those who are not green.

Waste Disposal

So the side of green businesses that pertains to the dumpster diving culture is waste disposal. And more specifically, waste disposal by retailers. When I go dumpster diving, I always see multiple dumpsters, and often one dumpster is labeled as recyclable waste only. Unfortunately, I often see a lot of non-recyclable materials in that dumpster. And when I don't, I really only see cardboard boxes in there. What I'm trying to say is that unfortunately, retailers don't tend to recycle as much as they could.

The lack of recycling is understandable, since it isn't economically feasible for every single recyclable item to be recycled. With the number of cardboard boxes that retailers receive filled with food, it is easy for those boxes to be recycled. Those boxes are also probably the only recyclable material that retailers have in enough recyclablesbulk to be worth recycling. As a result, a lot of recyclable materials, like plastic containers, just get trashed.

So dumpster divers remove materials from the dumpster, and then typically recycle whatever is recyclable. This means that when things have been removed from the dumpster, more of the recyclable materials can be recycled. So my proposition is that we need to dumpster dive more, so that we can recycle more materials and be more environmentally friendly. This also means that we are keeping those recyclable materials out of the land fill. Just make sure that when you are recycling the trash from your diving adventure that you clean the food out of the materials first.

1 thought on “Recycling and Dumpster Diving: A match made in land fills

  1. celeste
    I have literally just taken a new job very involved with the city's recycling programs and just this evening I was passing dumpsters down town and doing this! Spread the word!

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