Why is recycling so hard?

Why is recycling so hard?

Sent Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Welcome to the Green Guide, the monthly newsletter published by

Greener Museums. I’ve been going through my e-mails lately, and I

noticed that I receive a lot of questions about waste and in

particular recycling. Recycling is a key component of waste

reduction and yet many people still resist recycling.


Why is recycling so hard?


While clarifying the benefits of recycling is important, there are

other things you should do to improve your recycling program. This

month’s feature article will help you to re-examine your recycling

program and improve it.


To your greener future,

Rachel Madan, Director of Greener Museums



Here’s what’s in this issue:


* Feature Article: Why is recycling so hard?

* Upcoming Events: Your chance to meet me in person!

* About Rachel Madan


Best wishes,

Rachel Madan


Director of Greener Museums

Feature Article: Why is recycling so hard?


I think that when it comes to improving recycling rates, changing

the attitude around recycling is one of the most important things

we can do. It comes down to making recycling “the way we do things

around here.” If you don’t agree with it, too bad. Of course, we

also want to make recycling simple and easy, so that it doesn’t

become a burden. In this issue we’ll look at how to make your

recycling program clearer and easier by busting some recycling

myths, looking at some advances in recycling and some important

steps you may not have taken just yet.


Before we get into that it has to be said that the number one way

to reduce waste to landfill is to prevent waste from accumulating

in the first place. Reducing unnecessary purchases, reducing

packaging waste, and re-using materials all come before recycling.

But of course after those options are exhausted recycling is

definitely preferable to landfill!



Common Recycling Myths

Myth: The energy used by vehicles to collect recyclables outweighs

any benefit you get from recycling.

Fact: You have to get rid of the waste somehow. The vehicle will be

there no matter what. If your collections increase due to

separation you should talk to your waste hauler about reducing the

frequency of collection. This argument is a definite non-starter.


Myth: Recycling takes more energy than generating products from

virgin materials.

Fact: It takes 95% less energy to recycle aluminum than it does to

make it from raw materials. Making recycled steel saves 60%,

recycled newspaper 40%, recycled plastics 70%, and recycled glass

40%. This myth is just plain false.


Myth: It all winds up in a landfill anyway.

Fact: Nope. In the UK, all of the newsprint manufactured in the UK

is made from 100% recycled paper. Worldwide, more than 64% of steel

is recycled. Recycled glass “cullet” is a key component of glass



Myth: We’re already recycling all we can.

Fact: That might be true, but it probably isn’t. Studies suggest

about 60% of household waste could be recycled or composted, but

actual recycling rates range from about 18% to 40%. So everyone

could be doing better!




Connect the dots

As a museum, you can control what waste is produced in your

facility. Don’t sell products that are overpackaged or made of

non-recyclable packaging. Talk to your waste contractor about what

they can take for recycling. If they can’t recycle too many

products, talk to other contractors about what they can do for you.

Commonly recycled packaging includes



* Glass

* Aluminum

* Steel

* Plastics marked with a 1 or 2

* Paper



Some local governments have composting facilities. Some commercial

waste contractors also offer this service. Do not sell products in

your museum that are wrapped in packaging that your own waste

hauler cannot recycle. Look for alternative products that can be



Make it simple and easy

Recycling used to mean having many different bins- one for paper,

one for cans, one for brown glass, one for green glass, one for

clear glass, one for food, one for plastic, the list went on and

on. While this system is still in place, more and more major

metropolitan areas are now serviced by Materials Recovery

Facilities, or MRFs (pronounced “murf”). These facilities accept

dry recyclables which are all mixed together. If your waste

contractor has access to these facilities you can switch to a

two-bin system- recyclable and non-recyclable. If you are lucky,

your local area will also be serviced by a commercial composting

facility, which means you can have a three-bin system- recyclable,

compostable, and landfill or incineration. San Francisco has this

system in place, you can read about it here. MRFs are becoming more

and more common.


Finally, whatever system you use, make it clear and easy to use. Be

consistent with the labeling on waste receptacles. Post pictures,

photos, even the actual items themselves that can go in each bin.

Always locate different types of bins next to each other- otherwise

people will just use the bin they see. Perform waste audits to see

how you are doing. Continue to adopt your system to improve it. And

finally, ASK people why they aren’t recycling! No matter how clear

it may be in your mind, you may be communicating in a confusing

manner. Asking your staff, visitors, and cleaners if they need help

to recycle is always a good idea.




Upcoming Events: Your chance to meet me in person!



Towards Greener Museums: Sustainability & Environmental Strategies.

I’ll be speaking at this one-day seminar looking at positive

solutions to reduce and mitigate the environmental impact of

museums and cultural organisations. The event will both look at

practical steps museums can take to reduce their carbon footprint

and also the role of museums in contributing to learning, raising

awareness & greening their communities. March 24th, 2010 in London.

Register at



Museums and Heritage Show, May 12 + 13, 2010, Earls Court,London

I’m curating the Greener Exhibits Theatre: Bigger Impression,

Smaller Footprint. Do you think that sustainability is a good idea,

but not sure how it fits in with your exhibit programme? Do you

think a sustainable exhibition might be more expensive to put on,

and not as good quality? Are you puzzled by what a “sustainable

exhibit” might be? Are you just beginning to tack sustainability in

your organisation, but unclear as to the next steps? Then the

Greener Exhibits Theatre is the place for you.

Visit the Museums and Heritage Show Website at

http://www.museumsandheritage.com to register.