By: Pam Blackledge, RePaper Project Coordinator
As a board member for the National Recycling Coalition, I have the opportunity to be well aware of the challenges, and importance, of increasing recycling rates across many materials. I agree with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's answer last year on a daytime talk show, that a high recycling rate for all materials would be one of the most important things we could achieve as a nation. And a recent study said that we could realistically create 1.5 million new jobs with expanded recycling. In the effort to increase recovery rates and reduce the number of trucks headed to the landfill, many communities are moving to single-stream recycling, where glass, plastic, and paper are all tossed into one bin, and sorted later at a central facility.
But really our goal is not just diversion from landfills, it's more holistic. It's about making high-quality, new things from the recovered material as well, to eliminate virgin raw material extraction, water, and energy use that can be avoided. That's why they say, "If you're not buying recycled too, you're not really recycling." Single-stream collection is very effective at increasing diversion, but has embedded challenges for manufacturers of recycled paper that could further strain an undersupplied and competitive market for high quality recovered wastepaper.
I recently wrote a short article for the National Recycling Coalition, touching on the topic of how the single stream collection system often leads to downcycling paper fiber (from a printing and writing paper to a packaging paper) which creates a missed opportunity for significant environmental benefits. If single stream collection systems are truly the way of the future, then we absolutely need to be putting in even more effort to identify ways that the collecting and sorting process can be improved. We must take a holistic view of the recycling system to ensure that contamination does not render recovered paper useless for its highest and best use in remanufacturing.
So how do we bridge the gap between collectors and manufacturers? How do we support our domestic recycled paper manufacturers without making it costly and burdensome for the collectors? We believe there is a way to support both sides of the industry and local communities through a collective vision. The RePaper Project is bringing people together to find solutions that accelerate paper recovery and capture all of the benefits. Connect with us today to help strengthen and grow a holistic recycling system here in North America.