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
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
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
* Plastics marked with a 1 or 2
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.
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.