Every November 15, the U.S. celebrates America Recycles Day. Every year on this day, the country makes a collective effort to raise awareness about the importance of recycling, encourage Americans to recycle, and persuade them to buy recycled products.
Thanks to days like these and initiatives taken by states and cities that the recycling rate of the country has been steadily increasing over the past four decades. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the recycling rate for municipal solid waste (MSW) went up from an abysmal 6.4 percent in 1960 to an impressive 34 percent in 2010.
This in the absence of any federal law that mandates recycling. No doubt, the efforts of the state and local governments with the support of private recyclers like Sims Metal Management and members of the community are to be credited for this success.
But among the many cities and towns in the U.S. where recycling is deeply encouraged, a few stand out as a sterling example of what it actually means to recycle. Let’s take a look at 5 cities that have taken recycling to the next level:
1. San Francisco, California: The city that’s known for its balmy weather, progressive outlook, inclusive culture, and the Golden Gate Bridge blew the environmentalists away when it reached a diversion rate of 80 percent in 2013. Through source reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting, the city was able to divert 80 percent of its waste away from landfills when the national average is just about 35 percent. Some of the reasons for this remarkable achievement are: a recycling program that accepts more materials than most cities, a requirement for all businesses and households to compost, and a ban on non-compostable plastic bags.
The city also runs a unique recycling program called “Gigantic 3” that allows residents only to drop-off large items like mattresses, yard waste, furniture, appliances, etc. as well as special items like household batteries, motor oil, oil, filters, and fluorescent bulbs and tubes. Additionally, all city property needs to be submitted to the San Francisco Virtual Warehouse for reuse, recycling, and disposal. So seriously does the city take its recycling that it recently introduced a penalty of $500 for residents who fail to recycle. The city, which diverted 1,593,830 tons of its trash from the landfill in 2010, is gunning for a “zero-waste” status by 2020!
2. San Jose, California: The city is a flag bearer of sorts when it comes to curbside recycling. It started the program way back in 1989 and now has more than 280,000 households under its service, according to the public-private environmental group Recycle Together. The city implemented its “Recycling Plus!” system in 1993 with the aim to encourage waste generators to reduce waste. Since the start of the program, 86 to 87 percent of San Jose residents have been consistently paying for a 32-gallon garbage cart and unlimited recyclable collection service, while only 13 percent pay for the 64-gallon cart and a mere 1 percent for 96-gallon cart service, according to the California Government website. The city was also awarded the 2009 Recycling System Gold Excellence Award for its “successful efforts in achieving the highest level of excellence in solid waste management.”
Part of the reason for its success is the long list of items that are accepted in its curbside recycling program. In addition to the regular glass, paper, and plastic items, the city also accepts aseptic packaging, textiles, and motor oil. Metal recycling in San Jose’s curbside recycling program goes beyond the traditional tins and cans to include miscellaneous metal scrap such as keys, pots, pans, metal lids and caps, and even small appliances like toasters, blenders, etc. Since roughly 2 percent of recyclable materials in single-family residential waste in San Jose consist of metal scrap, it helps the city’s recycling goals in no small measure.
3. New Haven, Connecticut: The City of New Haven in Connecticut scores on the sheer number of different recycling programs it offers to its residents and businesses. From single-
stream recycling to hazardous waste drop-off centers, from free compost bins to yard waste collection, from electronics recycling to certified metal scrap yards – New Haven does everything and more to encourage its residents to recycle. Clearly, sustainability is right on top of the city’s agenda what with the Mayor sharing green tips with residents on New Haven’s official website.
4. Camden, New Jersey: It is the law to recycle in Camden. Just to make it amply clear – recycling is not just encouraged in the city and offenders are not just frowned upon. Recycling in Camden is mandatory. The city even asks its residents to fill out a recycling pledge. For its part, Camden offers once-a-week curbside recycling program, but that’s not all. The Camden County Division of Environmental Affairs coordinates a number of environmental programs and recycling projects including household hazardous waste collection drives, electronics recycling events, etc. Besides, there are many private certified scrap yards in Camden that accept various types of niche items ranging from metal scrap to white goods.
5. New York City, New York: How can any list about recycling be complete without the Big Apple? New York City has a long and rich history of recycling. The city’s curbside recycling program is primarily responsible for significantly reducing the amount of waste that needs to be landfilled. Just as well, since the city closed its Fresh Kills Landfill in 2001. NYC, with its massive population, presents unique recycling challenges for the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) that collects refuse and recycling from all its residential buildings irrespective of the type, size, or number of units. The DSNY has so far been up to the challenge.
NYC is also the proud home of state-of-the-art recycling centers such as the iconic Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility, which is a collaborative project between Sims Metal Management and the City of New York. As for the Fresh Kills Landfill, the site is under the process of being developed as a park three times the size of New York’s iconic Central Park. Only good things happen when we decide to eliminate waste from our life!
So, these are the cities that have been showing the way so far as recycling is concerned. There are important lessons to be learned from these cities and one of them is – it’s not the size, population, or facilities that matter when it comes to recycling. It’s the intent!