“America Recycles Day,” held annually on November 15, is a nationally celebrated day encouraging Americans to consider the waste we generate. Since its inception in 1997, millions of Americans have pledged to increase their recycling at home and work, and to close the loop by buying products made with recycled materials.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American generates over 4 pounds of waste per day. Where does it go? Some of the answers are sobering — buried in methane-producing landfills, incinerated, transported by truck across states and continents. Some growing waste streams, like electronics, can accumulate in the environment if not disposed of responsibly or recycled, creating toxic conditions that endanger wildlife and human health.
America Recycles Day reminds us to recycle commonly generated trash that has value — paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, metals, food waste, electronics, and other materials. Currently, GSA recycles approximately 51% of the routine office trash we generate nationwide, meeting the Executive Order 13514 2015 goal. But, if we can bring every region up to and beyond this national average, we know that we can strive for an even higher goal — for zero waste — with a little effort and participation from all of us.
At GSA, where “Making a More Sustainable Government” is one of our six priorities, we know we can continue to lead the way toward zero waste. Let’s focus on plastic bottles and compostable wastes. Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, and throw the majority of them away. Putting them in the recycling bin can help the environment, and saves money too. In the National Capital Region (NCR), in 2014 it cost GSA $70 per ton to send trash to the landfill, but GSA earned up to $230 per ton for our properly sorted recycled paper products, plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass containers.
Composting, a form of recycling paper towels, food scraps and other organic materials, is also on the rise. Federal facilities, particularly in locations with cafeterias and available bulk compost providers, are sending organic waste to composting facilities instead of landfills. When composted, scraps from your lunch become a valuable part of high-quality soils for landscaping, farming, and home gardens. NCR estimates that 20% of waste from DC-area facilities is compostable. Recently, NCR began a new program to compost paper towel waste, which will soon expand to include food waste as well. This program, coupled with other recycling and composting efforts, could help GSA increase our total waste diversion from 50% to 70-80%.
As public servants, responsibly recycling and composting demonstrates our leadership and saves taxpayer dollars. It’s the least we can do. So this November 15, please celebrate America Recycles Day with GSA and renew your commitment to proper recycling and composting.
Recycling and composting programs vary between GSA buildings, but here are some rules of thumb:
- Containers with a neck are the most easily recycled.
- Plastic containers without necks (yogurt cups, drinking straws, beverage cups, microwavable food trays, etc.) may be recyclable in your community; however, recycling these plastics in most Federal facilities isn’t economically feasible.
- Did you know that post-it notes, wrappers from printer paper, boxes from microwavable meals, cardboard coffee cup insulators, and even scrap pieces of paper are all recyclable?
- Avoid purchasing and using plastics. It’s most sustainable to bring and use your own mugs, cups, plates, and silverware in the office.
- Though many coffee cups could be compostable, if your facility is not composting, your cups should go in the trash — a dripping coffee cup will contaminate other recyclables.
- Paper towels, napkins and tissues are NOT recyclable as they may contain bacteria or food waste that contaminates other recyclables. Instead, these materials may be compostable, depending on the programs available for your building.