What is Cart Tagging?

Day 268 – Cart tagging involves a group of people that go out and inspect recycle bins. They take note of any contamination that is found in the recycling bins. That information then helps pinpoint where outreach efforts are needed. Those using the cart tagging process have found that having a conversation with residents about what should and should not go into the recycle bins has helped decrease the amount of contaminates and increased the amount of material that can be recycled successfully.

In an article in Resource Recycling, Collin Staub writes about a campaign that started in Centerville, Ohio. The city on Aug. 11 announced the effort, explaining that the project is “mobilizing specially trained staff and volunteers to conduct curbside cart observations. Cart inspectors will flip lids in several neighborhoods and will deploy “oops” tags on contaminated carts. The tags will include “specific feedback designed to reduce contamination,” the city wrote, and those carts will not be emptied for that week.

Cart tagging programs are happening around the country. Those running these programs realize that not every town can employ cart inspectors. Ron Jones, a senior planner for the city of Olympia, Washington, offers another option for getting feedback on cart quality. “The drivers are there every week picking up recycling,” he said. “They know customers, they get to kind of understand who is contaminating really badly versus not so bad, who is doing well.” Olympia, which uses municipal crews for collection, gives drivers a tablet and directs them to note which households set out highly contaminated carts. Drivers can identify the type of contamination through the system as well. Afterward, the city’s recycling department downloads the data and uses it to tailor outreach materials.

In Regina, Saskatchewan they are using a new automated technology to help decrease decontamination. The technology uses a camera installed on the recycling collection truck. The camera takes an image of the cart contents as they are emptied, and a software program visually identifies contaminants. An “oops” mailer is delivered to households with high contamination levels, indicating the contaminants and providing tips for proper recycling.

Even though these programs have had overall success, they have faced some residents that don’t comply or become unpleasant when explaining what needs to be done to have a successful program. It is unfortunate that something as simple as making sure you are placing recyclable items in your recycle cart has to create friction. Many of the programs will take away the recycle cart after a number of violations. In order to get it back a fee needs to be paid. Those cities currently landfill those recyclables while trying to educate residents about how to properly recycle.

It will take a group effort to make sure recyclable items are recycled. Residents, waste management companies and city government need to work together for a common goal, a healthier planet.

Tomorrow, protecting rivers.

Reducing Recycling Contamination

Day 260 – Our neighbors in Grand Rapids, Michigan, just recently won an award. They earned Resource Recycling Inc.’s 2021 Program of the Year award in the Large City category, which was open to municipalities with 150,000 residents or more.

The City of Grand Rapids teamed with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership to introduce a first-of-its-kind community wide project aimed at improving the quality of materials residents recycle in their curbside carts last fall. The Recycling Racoon Squad helped educate residents, ““Know It Before You Throw It”. The effort promotes best practices and emphasizes that recycling materials saves energy, reduces water use, decreases greenhouse gases, conserves resources, and translates into local jobs. 

City crews collected 7,170 tons of recyclables from more than 50,500 households in the most recent program year. In its submission materials to the awards program, Grand Rapids reported a contamination rate of 7.4 percent. The percentage is far lower than what’s being seen in many local programs in the U.S., where contamination rates above 20 percent are common. 

Grand Rapids program leaders work closely with the nearby Kent County materials recovery facility (MRF) to educate residents and enforce strict anti-contamination controls. Educational efforts include removing carts after high levels of trash are found in recycling at a residence three times and providing “Recycling 101” educational materials before residents can get their carts back.

Grand Rapids also implemented a “Feet on the Street” anti-contamination tagging program in the fall of 2020, inspecting recycling setouts at all 50,540 serviced households over the course of eight weeks. That effort reduced contamination in the local recycling stream by 37 percent, according to program leaders.

So the question is, could this work in other cities?

It seems like it all comes down to education and of course having people that care about the planet. Without those two things, reducing recycling contamination will continue to be an unreachable goal.

Keep up the good work Grand Rapids! You are showing the country and the world that coming together as a community to accomplish an important goal that helps benefit people and the planet is achievable.

Tomorrow, the story of stuff.

Sustainability Expo

Day 249 – A sustainability expo is coming to Morton Grove.

So, what’s a sustainability expo?

It is a gathering of like minded people, trying to conserve and protect the planet.

Go Green Illinois wants you to know:

Join the Morton Grove Environment and Natural Resources Commission at the Morton Grove Sustainability Expo. This free event is family friendly, all are welcome, and encouraged to attend.

Over 30+ vendors and exhibitors. Come learn about solar options in IL, sign up for a free energy audit, pick up a sapling to plant, design an eco-focus button, pick up some native plants, eco-friendly tools, or learn about composting, recycling, green lawn care and more!

Stop by the Go Green Morton Grove table for some free native plant seeds and enjoy a fun activity to show how your efforts to go green help us all combat climate change.

Don’t miss the electric car show!

Event will be inside and outdoors at the Morton Grove Civic Center: 6140 Dempster Street in Morton Grove. 

One can only hope that there is a sustainability expo coming to your neighborhood in the near future.

Tomorrow, drones and their impact on wildlife.

Green Disk: Recycling Your Techno Trash

Day 245 – Today, you can stream pretty much anything. Music, movies, TV shows, video games and anything else you can think of, are ready to go without the need for disks or tapes. So, what can we do with all that stuff that once lined the shelves of your media cabinet? There are some places that will take your old movies and CDs as a donation. There are even places that might even pay you. However, don’t expect to get rich from your collection. The need and want for these items is rapidly decreasing. As for your burned CDs or VHS tapes, no one wants those and throwing them out should not be an option.

Green Disk offers recycling services for your techno trash. Just a few of the items that Green Disk will accept, includes:

  1. CDs, CD-Rs, CD-RWs and cases
  2. DVDs and cases
  3. Blu-ray and cases
  4. 3.5″ and 5.25″ floppy disks
  5. Zip and Jazz disks
  6. VHS
  7. Audio cassette tapes
  8. DAT, DLT, Beta and Digibeta

To see the complete list of accepted items, click HERE.

Green Disk offers a variety of ways to recycle your techno trash through numerous container options. Choose the size that fits your needs.

As technology advances and we find ourselves with items that we no longer need, it is our responsibility to try to find ways to dispose of items in an environmentally friendly way. At times there is a cost, but the cost to the planet is far greater if we don’t take proper action.

Tomorrow, old oyster shells being put to good use.

Do You Recycle? Challenge

Day 244 – A new program just started in Atlanta, Georgia, to try to encourage more people to recycle.

“Atlanta’s Do You Recycle? Challenge is engaging 100 multifamily buildings citywide to provide recycling training and education to residents over the next 12 months, culminating in a public recognition event for the properties with the highest achievements in improving recycling participation and reducing the amount trash or nonrecyclables in the recycling.”recyclingpartnership.org

So why is Atlanta offering this challenge?

In the US, every year 22 million tons of household recyclables go to landfills, become litter, and pollute our waters. While packaging plays a key role in keeping products safe and transportable, it too often is discarded when it could be used again. Recycling protects resources from depletion, allows communities to manage the amount of trash they have to handle, and protects the environment by saving water and greenhouse gases.” – recyclingpartnership.org

The program is planned to run three years and hopes to include more multifamily homes. They hope their efforts will keep more recyclables out of landfills.

Live Thrive, an Atlanta-based recycling non-profit organization, will serve as the community hub for the Do You Recycle? Challenge. Last year Live Thrive’s Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (CHaRM) diverted 1370 tons of items from the landfill.

Participating properties will receive:

– Technical assistance
– Education materials
– Signage
– Public recognition
– An improved sustainability amenity

If Atlanta can prove that such a program can be successful in diverting recyclable material from to the landfill, then there is no reason why it should not be pushed out to cities around the country. Would you be ready for the challenge?

Tomorrow, an option to recycle your old CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes.

Battery Solutions: Making battery recycling easy

Day 243 – On Day 49, I spent some time writing about batteries and the difficulty in recycling them. After the EPA deemed them safe to throw away, anyone willing to take them to get recycled stop offering the free service. Now you need to pay a fee. I encourage everyone to use rechargeable batteries. They can be used 1,000 times and can be recycled easily and for free.

For those that feel the need to continue using alkaline batteries, then you should consider recycling them responsibly. Battery Solutions will do the job for a fee. They have various recycling kits to fit various needs.

We are ready to handle any volume, any size, any chemistry, any battery ever made. – Battery Solutions

They have responsibly recycled 178,934,861 batteries, have 6,956 partners and service 3 countries.

Battery Solutions has built their business on sustainability.

  1. Recycling – We are committed to recycling every possible material from every battery.
  2. Conservation – Partnering with local groups in southeast Michigan, we have contributed hybrid vehicle and electric vehicle battery shells to be turned into wildlife habitats.
  3. Device Renewal – We restore broken and unwanted cell phones and tablets back into usable tech.
  4. Education – We offer tours and education programs on site at our facilities, working with EGLE (The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy) as well as smaller local groups to promote battery recycling.
  5. Global Connections – To help secure the future for these young recyclers, we are committed to supporting recycling at all levels. Outside of our direct community involvement, we are also supporters of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Stop throwing recyclable material in the trash. Battery Solutions can help you with that goal.

Tomorrow, a recycle challenge.

Don’t Trash Glass Program Comes to Chicago

Day 241 – We hear it all the time.

“Recycling is not working.”

“We can not solve or waste issue with recycling.”

Though, I do believe these statements are true, we also need recycling. Even if it’s not perfect. Cardboard, glass and aluminum are all great options to avoid plastic. However, in order for them to be reused they need to be rescued from the landfill and recycled.

More than 28 million glass bottles and jars end up in landfills each year.

A pilot program to help save as many glass bottles from entering the landfill is underway in Chicago. The Don’t Trash Glass Program (DTG) is an eight-week program which seeks to collect glass containers at Greater Chicago area bars and restaurants to be recycled into new bottles, fiberglass and more. 

The program is funded by the nonprofit Glass Recycling Foundation (GRF) based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in partnership with Legacy Marketing in Chicago and beer importer Constellation Brands of Victor, New York. The organizations and businesses involved in the program include glass hauler GlassKing, of Phoenix, waste hauler Lakeshore Recycling Systems (LRS) and glass recycler Strategic Materials, which is headquartered in Houston.” – Recycling Today

The hope is that with more education and information, restaurants and bars will understand the importance of recycling. The goal is to create a self-sustaining program that will be scalable in other parts of the country.  

Keeping highly recyclable materials out the landfill is our first step in the fight against waste. If we can not move forward in creating a circular economy with the materials we have, then we will run out places to bury it all

Tomorrow, building healthy and sustainable communities.

Maine is Holding Companies Accountable for Their Packaging Waste

Day 239 – Maine is the first state in the nation to hold big corporations and brands accountable for the plastic waste and packaging they have created. Maine has joined more than 40 jurisdictions around the world to require companies that create packaging waste help pay for the costs of recycling. The new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for Packaging law (LD 1541) will increase recycling rates, reduce packaging pollution, and save taxpayers money. 

For far too long all the responsibility for finding ways to recycle product packaging has been on the consumer. Finally, the responsibility will be on the manufacturers and companies that are producing the items. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is a special type of waste management policy created to safely and responsibly dispose of difficult-to-recycle products and materials. EPR shifts the costs of dealing with difficult types of waste from town governments, to manufacturers and corporations, that have control over the safety and recyclability of the products they make and sell. 

Natural Resources of Council of Maine lists the problems that new EPR for Packaging law will target:

  1. Provides incentives for producers and big corporations to make less waste and more eco-friendly packaging.
  2. Takes the financial burden off taxpayers—so towns will no longer have to cut programs or raise taxes due to recycling costs.
  3. Creates a uniform list of materials collected in each participating municipal recycling program.  

There is no doubt that having this Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging Law, will make a huge difference in the waste produced in Maine. We can only hope that the example set in Maine will be the playbook that all states throughout the country follow.

Tomorrow, a company upcycling materials into new products.

Recycling Facts

Day 232 – There are currently over 2,000 landfills in the United States. The reason we have so many landfills is due to the fact that we, Americans, throw a lot of stuff away. We are constantly tossing things in the trash without giving a second thought as to where it goes. If we just took a moment to ask, “Where is away?”, maybe we could start making changes in our behavior to minimize the amount of waste we produce.

Rubicon is the leading provider of cloud-based waste and recycling solutions for businesses, governments, and organizations worldwide. With more than 4.9 million service locations, Rubicon focuses on developing software solutions that bring new transparency to the waste and recycling industry—encouraging customers to make data-driven decisions that lead to more efficient and effective operations as well as more sustainable outcomes.

Rubicon put together a list of 50 Recycling and Landfill Facts That Will Make You Think Twice About Your Trash. I thought I would just share 20 of them in hopes it will get you thinking about trash and ways to start reducing your amount.

  1. Nine-tenths of all solid waste in the United States does not get recycled.
  2. Landfills are among the biggest contributors to soil pollution – roughly 80% of the items buried in landfills could be recycled.
  3. The U.S. recycling rate is around 34.5%. If we’re able to get the rate to 75%, the effect will be like removing 50 million passenger cars from U.S. roads.
  4.  9 out of 10 people said they would recycle if it were “easier”.
  5. The United States throws away $11.4 billion worth of recyclable containers and packaging every year.
  6. In the United States, we throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour – about 42,000 per minute, or about 695 per second.
  7. The amount of plastic film and wrap produced annually could shrink-wrap the state of Texas.
  8. According to a study done by the University of Georgia, 18 billion pounds of plastic trash winds up in our oceans each year. To put that in perspective, it’s enough trash to cover every foot of coastline around the world with five full trash bags of plastic…compounding every year.
  9. Over 100,000 marine animals die every year from plastic entanglement and ingestion.
  10. Glass, like aluminum, is infinitely recyclable – without any loss in purity or quality.
  11. Glass container manufacturers hope to achieve 50 percent recycled content in the manufacture of new glass bottles. This achievement would save enough energy to power 21,978 homes for one year and while removing over 181 tons of waste from landfills monthly.
  12. In only three months, enough aluminum cans are thrown out in the United States to rebuild all of our commercial air fleets.
  13. You can make 20 new cans from recycled material using the same amount of energy that it takes to make 1 brand new can.
  14. While the United States celebrates the holidays, Americans produce an additional 5 million tons of waste (four million of the 5 million tons consisting of wrapping paper and shopping bags).
  15. The majority of the 4 million tons of junk mail that Americans receive annually ends up in landfills.
  16. On average, Americans use 650 pounds of paper a year. Each.
  17. Americans make nearly 400 billion photocopies a year, which comes out to 750,000 copies every minute.
  18. The average office worker in the United States goes through roughly 500 disposable cups annually.
  19.  2,000 pounds (or 1 ton) of recycled paper helps to save over 350 gallons of oil, 17 trees, and a large portion of landfill space
  20. Of the 62 million newspapers printed daily in the United States, 44 million will be thrown away (roughly 500,000 trees).

Until we begin to realize that even though our trash may leave our house, it is not leaving our town or city. It is just being transported to another location, where the pile will continue to grow and grow. When will we begin to realize that a change needs to happen? Maybe when that pile becomes so large that the trash finds its way back to your home.

Tomorrow, a use for mango skins you most likely had no idea was possible.

The Report on Chicago’s Waste

Day 222 – This past July, Chicago released a 64 page Waste Strategy report on existing waste conditions in the city. As I read through the document I made some notes that I found worth sharing.

  1. In 2020, the City of Chicago generated 4.13 million tons of materials. That includes waste from residents, institutional, commercial and industrial.
  2. Annually, approximately 40,000 to 44,000 tons of yard waste are generated from low density residential structures in Chicago, but very little has been collected through 311 pickup requests.
  3. High contamination rates strain recycling equipment and lessen the value of recycled commodities.
  4. From 2015 to 2020, there was an average of over 75,000 tons of materials collected each month; an average of 9 percent of which was diverted from landfills.
  5. Private companies and high-density residential buildings are not required to report their rates for garbage collection service.
  6. While some service areas show relatively consistent performance over time, there is a general trend of declining performance across all areas (relating to recycling).
  7. CPS manages waste and recycling services for 642 schools.
  8. Increased material diversion through reuse and recycling has potential to create more jobs than would be created through disposal.
  9. The Illinois Commodity/Waste Generation and Characterization Study Update published in 2015 calculated the market value of recyclable materials, including subcategories of paper, plastic, glass, and metal, that were ending up in landfills. The study found that the value of these materials was more than $360 million.
  10. The study found that slightly over a quarter of material placed in Blue Cart bins is unrecyclable contamination, including recyclable materials in plastic bags.
  11. Making cans from recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy and generates 90 percent less green house gas emissions than virgin stock.
  12. In 2004, there were eight active landfills in the region, and as of 2020, there are only four. These four landfills had an average life expectancy of 12.4 years as of January 2020. There are no active landfills in Chicago or Cook County.
  13. In addition to landfills in Illinois, Chicago’s waste is disposed across state lines in Indiana. In 2019, over 2.6 million tons of waste generated in Cook County (including the city of Chicago) were sent to six landfill locations in Indiana.
  14. On average, each Chicago resident generates a little over 3 pounds of waste per day at home, or a little under 3,000 pounds of waste per year for each Chicago household.
  15. COMMUNITY EDUCATION PROGRAMS MATTER

Here’s a list of things the city offers that you might not know about.

  1. Since 2014, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), in partnership with Seven Generations Ahead and Lakeshore Recycling Systems, has been expanding a commercial composting pilot program to reduce organic waste, improve purchasing, and provide waste diversion education to CPS students, faculty, and staff. The program has expanded to 14 CPS schools and (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic conditions) resulted in over 2,500 pounds of materials diverted from landfills every day.
  2. Yard waste collection is available to Chicago residents through the 311-request program.
  3. Composting is available through commercial composting companies, Illinois Food Scrap Coalition and Zero Waste Chicago.
  4. In 2020, the Chicago Department of Public Health and Department of Streets and Sanitation introduced a pilot program offering rotating e-waste drop off service at district sanitation offices.
  5. The Chicago Department of Public Health (in partnership with the Chicago Police Department) provides for pharmaceutical disposal at police stations across the city. In addition, there are secure drop off sites located at hospital centers, select pharmacies, and at water reclamation plants managed by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD).
  6. Foam packaging and food service containers are not accepted in Blue Cart bins or City drop off locations. Dart Container Corporation offers free drop off collection at 7575 S. Kostner Avenue for all polystyrene foam except for packing peanuts, which can often be reused for shipping.
  7. Shredded paper is not accepted in Blue Cart bins because it clings to and contaminates other items and does not respond to recycling equipment like whole paper. The City, Aldermen, and other organizations sponsor events for personal document shredding and collection (or collection of pre-shredded paper) for residents.
  8. Flexible plastic film, including plastic bags and common packing materials, can become tangled and damage recycling equipment, and is not accepted in Blue Cart bins. Recyclables placed in Blue Carts should also not be bagged. This material can be recycled if collected separately, and several Chicago grocery stores and businesses host collection sites for plastic film. A list of participating businesses by zip code can be found at PlasticFilmRecycling.org
  9. Chicago Public Libraries have hosted innovative Repair Cafes and other programs to better manage Chicago’s materials.

Here’s some ideas of how the city wants to reduce our waste.

  1. Reframe Chicago’s materials as resources, instead of waste.
  2. Identify opportunities to include goal setting, metrics, and data sharing to demonstrate progress and increase transparency.
  3. Equip consumers with the education and tolls needed to drive innovation in evolving waste systems.
  4. Increase transparency in the process and build trust among Chicago’s residents more efficiently.
  5. Shift the cultural norms towards circularity and away from traditional disposal models.
  6. Maintaining clear and consistent messaging around recycling contamination.
  7. Developing a directory of participating retail take-back options for e-waste and household hazardous waste in Chicago.
  8. Establishing a revenue-sharing partnership with a textile recycling company for collection of clothes, shoes, and other textiles otherwise ending up in landfills.

Chicago has a long way to go when it comes to sustainability. However, I do believe we have the potential to become better and even become a leader on the ways a large city addresses waste, reuse, recycling, and building a circular economy. It won’t be easy and it will take residents, commercial business, industrial corporations and institutions to help improve our current conditions.

Tomorrow, sustainable school bag options.