Saturday, December 20, 2008

A National Recycling Standard

I recycle, at least, I try to. Lifelong dedication to the environment, and I still wonder whether that envelope I’m holding is accepted in our paper recycling program. Are the plastic windowed ones allowed? If so, does the window have to be under a certain size? What about shiny paper? Usually it is excluded, however, junk mail is specifically mentioned as accepted. Of course, that doesn’t cover the plastics. Bypassing the issue of the numbers, a separate discussion altogether, take the example of plastic shopping bags. These items must be deposited elsewhere for recycling (the thin bags get trapped in the machinery and clog it), even though they are tagged with otherwise-included numbers. Did I mention that if otherwise excluded items wind up in the recycling pile, the entire batch is considered contaminated and subsequently thrown away? No pressure. Move to another city and the accepted items are likely completely different. With such a convoluted system, what hope does the average person trying to do their part have?

Recent news reports from USA Today, claim that the incoming Obama administration will be appointing former EPA administrator Carol Browner as energy “czar” to “coordinate energy issues across the federal government” . An entirely new position in the United States, surely her responsibilities will solidify as she grows into her role. Coordination is a wonderful idea; by keeping a unified focus in all federal activities, real progress can be made in energy policy. Energy, however, is not nearly as closed a field as implied. To make substantive impact on the global environment, they will need to focus on all aspects of energy use, and guarantee that we are using our energy efficiently and intelligently.

This is where the stories converge.

Recycling, at its very core, is intended to reduce the need to expend resources in making something new when an already-produced equivalent exists. If one were to ask a person why they might use recycled paper, a logical answer may include the following: “So we don’t have to cut down more trees”. The same goes for bottled water or a can of soda - why go through the effort of producing more virgin plastic when a recycled bottle already sequestered the necessary energy? In essence, recycling is the act of being more intelligent with our energy (and resource) use.

Suddenly, recycling sounds like a topic upon which the administration will wish to focus, but how to do so? Waste services are privately owned enterprises operating independently or on contract with municipalities, not the federal government. It is doubtful they would be open to nationalization, nor is that necessarily a good idea, but what about some standards? Is there anything else the federal government has a hand in regulating by allowing its operation by the private sector? Bingo, organic foods. Currently, the USDA provides standards for independent certifying bodies to inspect operations for compliance. If approved, they are permitted to use the USDA Organic seal on their product, providing standardization and ease-of-use for consumers.

I propose a similar system for recycling. Instead of the current labyrinth of policies, simply have a universally-recognizable logo printed on all products meeting the federal government’s recycling standard. The EPA (presumably the lead agency on the issue) will then go about assisting and approving existing waste disposal/recycling companies. Upon certification, they will be capable of processing a given criteria of materials, for example, plastics coded 1-6, clear and green glass, aluminum, and specific forms of paper, for all of their existing customers. The difference now is that on the disposal end, we do away with the traditional recycling logo and affiliated marks, and replace them with a custom EPA Recycle logo, in the same vein as the USDA Organic logo. For citizens living/working within a service area of an EPA-approved waste disposal company, they can rest assured that if they place an EPA Recycle labelled product in their recycle bin, it will be properly recycled. Market forces will push waste operators to achieve the EPA distinction to accommodate the demands of their clientele, as well as product manufacturers adopting its use on appropriate products.

Such a system eliminates the consideration of plastic code numbers (many people don’t even know they exist), cardboard versus paperboard recycling, or any number of other issues that can and do arise daily. Reference the success of the USDA Organic seal. Average citizens regularly seek out organic options, a change partially brought about simply by the addition of a standardized logo.

We have a golden opportunity ahead of us as we welcome a new administration strongly committed to the environment. A national recycling standard will help bridge the gap between the U.S. and, according to Swiss Recycling News, Switzerland, the global leader, standing at 76% . As of 2007, the EPA reports the United States had a recycling rate of approximately 33%, a value needlessly diminished by confusion, contamination, and general ignorance of the current situation . Americans want to recycle, but when presented with a hodgepodge of policies nationwide, it can make even the most green of people simply throw it away.

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .

Monday, December 1, 2008

Greening Your Holidays

With the Holiday season fast approaching, our thoughts here at GreenProfit Solutions, as everyone else, are turning to plans for celebration with good friends and family. We started wondering how we could combine the Holiday festivities with Going Green. After doing some research, we came up with a few ideas:
The results of our research estimated that in America alone, over 2 billion holiday cards will be printed and mailed, over 38,000 miles of ribbon will be used, and more than 50,000 square miles of wrapping paper will decorate all of those presents Santa will deliver to all of the good boys and girls. (Hmmm...I wonder if reindeer powered sleighs are eco-friendly?) And what about the traditional Christmas tree? Millions of those will be left on curbs, and hundreds of thousands of artificial trees will find their way to landfills. So how can we all enjoy our Holidays and be still green conscious?

Here are a few tips:

No Plastic Bags - we didn't mention those in the above estimates but Americans send over 350 million tons of plastic bags to landfills each year! (The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 500 billion and a trillion plastic grocery bags are consumed worldwide each year). Plastic bags are petroleum based, the inks used may contain lead, and are not recyclable through residential or most commercial recycling programs. Many end up as litter, negatively affecting our wildlife on land and in our waters. Why not keep a supply of reusable fabric bags in your car, and use them when you shop for gifts? Then after the holidays, they make heavy duty carriers for your food shopping, at the home improvement store, and everyday use.

No Artificial Trees - these are also made from petroleum products and are not recyclable. If you can, buy a live tree and plant it in your yard after the holiday. You may also be able to donate the tree to your community or city. What about a cut tree? Unfortunately, most conventional tree farms use large amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. A better option, if it is available in your area, is to buy an organically grown cut tree. Green Promise has compiled a list of organic growers. Regardless of which cut tree you buy, many municipalities now collect these and turn them into mulch.

Go e-Cards - Traditional paper cards not only take a toll on our trees, but also add huge amounts of carbon to our atmosphere to process the pulp into paper. Most of the inks used are solvent based and contain toxins which can find their way into water supplies. There are so many great interactive e-cards you can buy online, or better yet, create your own with family photos, music and even videos. Try creating one free at Save A Tree Cards or 123Greetings. Save trees, save paper and with no postage required, save money!

Go Real for Tableware - Use real plates and silverware, especially if you have an Energy Star efficient dishwasher. If you must use disposable items, make sure they are recyclable. Check the number in the triangular recycle logo. If it is a 3 or less, chances are it can be recycled IF you make sure it is not "contaminated" with food. Avoid buying Styrofoam, as this normally cannot be recycled and is also a petroleum based product.

Wrap it Up - Have any magazines, decorative paper bags or old posters around the house? Here's your chance to reduce your clutter and put it to use as wrapping paper. If you must have traditional wrapping paper, you can purchase recycled paper and cotton ribbons (some are also made with non-toxic soy based inks) online at Fishlips Paper and Paper Source.

Let It Shine - With the popularity of LED's, you can now purchase strings of lights and even decorative ornaments made with these ultra low power Light Emitting Diodes. These use much less power than traditional bulbs, (about 60-80% less), thereby not only reducing your Holiday "carbon footprint", but also reducing your energy costs. You may also want to consider purchasing a timer to save even more!

Joseph Winn is the President/CEO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc. which assists businesses in becoming environmentally responsible. You may view their website at or e-mail Joseph at [email protected] .