There is little doubt that climate change is real, and is happening. Whether it is human-caused, human-exacerbated, or simply the natural ebb and flow of Planet Earth, or some combination of all of these, I do not know. That debate is best left to the scientists who are studying the phenomenon, and the politicians who are responsible for crafting (hopefully) thoughtful legislation to deal with it.
Nevertheless, I feel it is important to do my part; to be a good steward of the only planet we have to call home. Part of this is by participating in as many recycling programs as possible. Back when recycling first entered the social consciousness – for me it was in the late 1980’s – recycling was a
royal pain in the a more difficult and complicated endeavor, which required consumer participation to manually sort one’s own trash. In my community, we had a black, regular can for general refuse, a blue can for paper, cardboard, cans, and other recyclable metals, a green can for lawn clippings, tree trimmings, and other organic waste, and a small, red bin for glass. On trash day, the streets would be lined by this rainbow of colorful receptacles. Even though I wasn’t a wine drinker in those days, I did use glass jars and other recyclable glass, and often wondered why glass only warranted a small bin, compared to the big boys like cardboard and cans.
In recent years, it has become easier and more convenient to recycle, depending on where one lives. I now live in Roseville, a community in Northern California that has the first “sorting” program I had heard of. Instead of relying on the consumer to sort their waste into three or four separate bins, like many communities, our waste management service allows us to deposit all solid waste (except green waste) into one bin. This is then taken to a facility where the waste is sorted and recyclables separated out for processing. What a great way to passively feel like I’m contributing to saving Planet Earth.
But am I? What really happens to those recyclables once they are dumped into that big truck every week? Do they really separate out the recyclables? Is recycling even profitable, and sustainable, especially for glass?
While not in the forefront of my mind always, but certainly when rolling the solid waste bin to the curb every week, those questions persisted. So it was a pleasant surprise when, a few weeks ago, I received an email from Nikolas Zilenski, of the End of Waste Foundation, inquiring if I’d be interested in featuring the Foundation’s work and progress in a blog article.
As I began researching for this post, I was disheartened. My concerns are real. The End of Waste Foundation (EOWF) has determined that nearly six million tons of glass goes unrecycled in the United States each year. But there is hope.
EOWF has created a sustainable packaging certification program, designed to increase glass recycling in the U.S., including tracking and monitoring recycling rates in participating communities. Known as the Recycling Traceability System™, the program receives recycling data from Material Recycling Facilities (MFRs) and issues a certificate of validation to verify the data. Participating businesses receive a Sustainable Packaging Certificate or Recycling Certificate to offset their carbon footprint.
In my correspondence with Nikolas, I shared my concerns and frustration:
“Your website indicates this step, the recycling, is actually not happening as much as the average consumer (me) thinks it is. Can you shed some insight into this, and why it is happening? I really think most of us believe we are doing the right thing by either sorting, or living in a community that does it for us. Are we being duped?”
Nikolas shared that statistical data is often hard to come by. However, he is diligent in his research, and provided the following statement:
“For around 30 years, China has been California’s go to solution for its recycling woes. We essentially built an economic system based on sending recyclables to China. But in 2018, China enacted the National Sword Policy, which placed strict standards on contamination levels of material sent to the country for recycling. Thus, the whole system is no longer economically viable for material recovery facilities.
This has opened up huge weak spots in the waste and recycling industry. With glass in particular, much of the loss occurs from sorting, processing and hauling.
In California, and wine in specific, there is an additional barrier to making sure that it’s being recycled as it’s one of the products that’s exempt from bottle deposit laws. Even with single stream recycling, contamination poses a hurdle for bottles being processed for re-use.
The goal here at End of Waste Foundation is to increase glass recycling rates and provide proof that recycling is actually happening with our partnerships. Transparency into the waste and recycling industry is one of the cornerstones that we’re built upon. Through our own independent research, we’ve found that around 40% of product manufacturers don’t trust the waste and recycling industry, and we want to change that.
We believe creating circular economies within the glass industry is the best way to handle two problematic fronts: environmental and economic. We believe our system benefits product manufacturers, local waste and recycling facilities, and most importantly, the environment and the local communities that live in them.”
Still in relative infancy, EOWF’s program already has proven results. In Colorado, they partnered with Rocky Mountain Bottling Company and Momentum Recycling in June, 2019. Since then, more than 2,600 tons of glass has been diverted from landfills.
In July, 2019, Sonoma County winery Truett Hurst joined the cause. As a biodynamic winery, CEO Paul Dolan has been concerned about studies that have shown that glass can account for up to 60% of a winery’s carbon footprint. He was interested in learning ways his winery, and the wine industry in general, can become more sustainable. Dolan hopes that by leading the way, more winemakers and winery owners will get on board.
For more information, please follow the links to the stories above.
You may be thinking, sure, EOWF is partnering with businesses to increase recycling and reduce their carbon footprint, but what can I do as an individual? Glad you asked. Individuals, families, and small business owners can get involved through financial contributions and raising awareness in their own communities.
Personally, I am encouraged by the efforts of EOWF and their partners. In fact, I am more inclined to purchase products from producers such as Rocky Mountain Bottling Company and Truett Hurst. By the way, Truett Hurst makes amazing wine, so I encourage you to support the cause and buy some of their wine today!
Individually, we can only do so much. But by joining together and supporting this cause, we can effect positive change for future generations.
And that’s something I can drink to!