One of the first and most forward-facing sustainability initiatives the public will notice about your organization will be your recycling program. Many factors must work together in order for your efforts to be successful. A vendor to collect the materials, easily recognizable and accessible recycling receptacles, and committed staff are just a few components of a successful recycling program. Another component is outreach and education to make your users aware of what they can recycle, as well as why they should. In the Georgia College Office of Sustainability, we constantly seek avenues on campus to teach our staff and students about recycling, which is why, as part of our Earth Week festivities, I presented one of our Times Talks on campus on April 19, 2017. This presentation, titled “Responsible Recycling: How Can I Improve Our Recycling Rates And Avoid Unintended Environmental Burdens,” was focused on two articles published in the New York Times.
In the first article, Gadget Mountain Rising in Asia Threatens Health, Environment – by the Associated Press, the authors explored some of the results of the Regional E-Waste Monitor for East and Southeast Asia. E-waste, also called electronic or electrical waste, is any end-of-life equipment dependent on electrical currents or electromagnetic fields to function and the associated components. According to this report, e-waste has increased 62.7% from 2010 to 2015 in the 12 locations studied (China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Phillipines). Reasons for this increase include rising incomes in Asia, a growing youth population, frequent replacement of gadgets, and the illegal global waste trade which shifts e-waste to countries with fewer regulations. When handled and discarded improperly, e-waste has the potential to expose humans and the environment to various chemicals such as lead, mercury, copper, dioxins/furans, brominated flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls, and chromium/chromium VI. At sufficient doses, some of these chemicals may be detrimental to human and environmental health.
In the second article, Germany Gleefully Leads List of World’s Top Recyclers – by Melissa Eddy, the author described Germany’s successful recycling efforts. She explained that Germany recycles 65% of their waste, according to Environment at a Glance 2015 published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Several factors contribute to the success of their recycling efforts. Collection bins are ubiquitous, color-coded, and clearly labeled in multiple languages. There are some regulatory mandates; for example, composting has been required in German communities since 2015. In addition, a certain level of social pressure drives people to place their waste and recycling into the appropriate bins.
Recycling has many benefits including reducing waste amounts sent to landfills, conserving natural resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs, and saving energy and money. At Georgia College, we recognize these benefits and work hard to increase our recycling rates. We also recognize the need to properly dispose of our waste to protect human and environmental health. For example, we recycle our e-waste with vendors who adhere to the R2 Standard, a voluntary certification administered by the Sustainable Electronics Recycling International and designed to promote and assess responsible practices. Recycling is one of our primary sustainability initiatives and through constant education and improvements, we can achieve high recycling rates like Germany while avoiding environmental burdens encountered in some areas in Asia.