By Kim Robson:
When we think of recycling, we generally think of glass, aluminum, plastic and paper. But there’s so much more than just those items. There’s a veritable gold mine of potentially valuable materials ending up in landfills. These materials can include industrial waste such as solvents, paints, and adhesives; e-waste, such as cellphones, microwaves, televisions and computer CRTs; and large appliances like washing machines.
Industrial waste and e-waste represent a significant percentage of all the waste generated in the U.S., and both largely do not enter the recycling stream. According to the EPA, solid industrial waste in the U.S. reaches nearly 7.6 billion tons each year, roughly 3,000% of all the municipal waste generated. And electronic waste is now the fastest growing solid waste material, increasing two to three times faster than any other waste.
Unfortunately, most of the waste we generate is not considered recyclable by the municipal system, and is disposed of via landfill or incineration. The reason is the lack of economic incentive to capture these materials for recycling: the cost of collecting, processing and separating them exceeds their market value as recycled commodities. Seeing the total lack of comprehensive systems to effectively manage these growing waste streams, some companies and manufacturers are taking it upon themselves to provide their own solutions. Here are some examples:
- In 2004, Subaru of Indiana became the first car manufacturing facility in North America to commit its organization to zero-landfill practices. For more than a decade, Subaru has been building their auto plants so that 100% of all manufacturing waste is either recycled or turned into electricity. Subaru tracks its waste with bar-coded containers so that none of it is left unaccounted.
- Industrial manufacturer Henkel is further developing its sustainability record by recycling its typically difficult-to-recycle industrial packaging waste. Through their TerraCycle’s new LOCTITE® Anaerobic Adhesive Recycling Program, Henkel customers can purchase a postage-paid recycling box to fill with empty adhesive containers and return to TerraCycle for recycling. TerraCycle thermally treats the containers, and turns them into new plastic products. The nature of this waste stream allows Henkel to fill a sustainability gap across industries, including packaging, construction and manufacturing.
- In order to help combat e-waste, Apple has introduced an experimental recycling robot named Liam which would help to disassemble and repurpose 1.2 million smartphones per year. Smartphones contain both dangerous heavy metals and valuable precious metals.
- Multinational computer manufacturer Dell has a mail-back program that allows consumers to responsibly dispose of unwanted equipment simply and easily. They also became the first in the industry to offer a computer made with third-party-certified closed-loop recycled plastics.
- Best Buy will take back e-waste, including TVs, computers, tablets, cellphones, radios, and even appliances. They do have to charge customers $25 a box in order to cover their costs. “Our goal has always been to simply break even on our recycling program, and we’re not there today,” the company said in a statement. “The fees help cover the increasing cost of managing TV and monitor disposal through our network of stores, distribution centers and recycling partners.”
These progressive companies are in a unique position to customize their own e-waste solutions, given the lack of clear answers from the current recycling infrastructure. Companies committing to recycling the “non-recyclable” or “difficult-to-recycle” impacts how both businesses and consumers manage waste, recycling, and what it means to be sustainable. Let’s show our support by giving them our patronage.