Material Management

We Can Do Better!

Sooo…we are doing a terrible job managing our materials.

According to the EPA, the US recycled <9% of plastics in 2012.

It’s no wonder we have a problem with plastics in the ocean!

Here’s the deal: it is on us to fix it.

You're probably saying to yourself, “But I do recycle! And my mom recycles!! What else do you want from me?!”

The fix is Surprising.

Unfortunately most products/materials are not manufactured to be recycled (see graph above for supersad, going-to-keep-you-up-at-night-trying-to-find-a-solution graph). To manage our materials better, we cannot continue to recycle more of the same:

We can only truly solve our growing waste issue by demanding products that are actually recyclable.

Here is a little insight into the process, and a new way to look at recycling:

When we think about recycling, we often only think about our experience at the bin. “Is this recyclable?” “Does this really get recycled?” “What the heck do these little numbers mean anyways?…I’m confused.”

But, for recycling to work, there are three main things that have to work together: Recapture, Sorting and Manufacturing.

  1. Recapture: These are the recycle bins and pick-up services for our homes, restaurants and businesses.
  2. Sorting: These are the recycling facilities, also know as Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs), that sort through our material.
  3. Manufacturing: These are the companies that make and sell products to us.

Often as consumers, we don’t think about the critical role that manufacturers have in making the recycling system function. We assume that they are tasked with manufacturing products out of recycled materials in a way that allows them to be recycled in the future, right?!

But, agh! This is not the case.

Manufacturers rarely include “design for recyclability” in their design criteria. Think of your TV, cellphone or even the packaging of your delicious granola. How would you design these products to capture the maximum amount of material once they are at the end of their life-cycle?

Well, one might start by asking the sorting facilities (MRFs) questions like: “What material has the most value as a recycled product?” or “How does your sorting technology work?”

Alas, as it stands there is little to no communication between manufacturers and sorting facilities. This must change.

And it is up to us to make this change happen!

It turns out that manufacturers LOVE to make things that we want to buy.

So, as consumers, we’ve got to start demanding products that are designed for recyclability.

Let’s get informed about materials and the recycling system and MAKE SOME NOISE! As more and more of us begin to demand products that minimize waste, manufacturers will gladly shift production to make more sales. Who benefits? The consumers (and future generations of consumers!), the manufacturers and the planet.

Now that’s a win-win-win situation.


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