Why plastic is still ‘the last frontier’ of recycling

The Guardian has a great article up about Mike Biddle, former CEO of MBA Polymers and one of the pioneers of plastic recycling. It covers some of the persistent problems with plastics and emerging solutions in electronic waste recycling as well.

This month, Mike Biddle, the founder and longtime CEO of a pioneering plastics-recycling company called MBA Polymers, stepped down as an executive at the firm, ending more than two decades of unrelenting effort to reduce plastic waste.

Plastics, he says, remains “the last frontier of recycling.”

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MBA Polymers operates recycling plants across the world that collectively reclaim over 300 million pounds of plastics each year. However, none are in the US. Our policies just haven’t caught up to the recycling market.

Biddle is disappointed that he has been unable to take the company further. He estimates that as much as 500 billion pounds of plastics are thrown away every year, only a tiny fraction of which is captured by MBA Polymers. He’s especially frustrated that the company isn’t operating in the US, the country that educated him and provided the seed money for his research.

Why can’t the company gain traction in the US? Building plants to reprocess plastics is expensive, and MBA Polymers cannot be sure it will get a large enough – and secure enough – supply of US plastic waste to justify the capital cost.

One way to secure a more predictable supply of e-waste would be to place some of the burden of collecting it on manufacturers. That’s what the EU has done. Its “extended producer responsibility” laws, which require electronics to be collected and recycled, have created a robust collection system for used cell phones, tablets, computers and other e-waste. “They primed the pump with policy,” Biddle says.

In the US, Texas and 22 other states have passed similar laws for electronic waste. We’re making progress – in fact, manufacturers collected 38 million pounds of e-waste in Texas alone last year. (Other states with stronger versions of this law are collecting far more, so we can definitely do more here.) But for plastics and packaging, we’re still way behind the curve.

Read the full article here, it’s worth a look.

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Going Green this Holiday? Check “Naughty List” for Batteries

With electronic devices topping the list of Holiday gift ideas for the umpteenth year in a row, battery sales are at their peak and many “green” buyers are wondering, which brand is best for the planet?

The familiar label, “Batteries Not Included” translates to the average buyer as, “Grab the cheapest pack of batteries that fit,” but a number of considerations do impact the environment, and some brands do a better job than others to ensure that their products will not end up in landfills.

Any device that uses AA or AAA batteries – some digital cameras, gaming accessories, and remote controls – can use either a rechargeable or single-use battery. Which is better for the environment? For a number of reasons, rechargeable batteries hold the green advantage. First, an obvious benefit is that you’ll use them over and over – almost anything that is designed to be used just once and then thrown “away” is going to be bad for the planet. Next, when those rechargeable batteries finally do stop working, there are recycling programs available to keep them out of landfills. Many retailers such as Best Buy, Home Depot and Staples will take them back for recycling. This is possible because of their partnership with battery manufacturers, who actually foot the bill for rechargeable battery recycling to save local taxpayers money. Rechargeable batteries do contain more toxic materials –such as cadmium or lithium—  than their single-use counterparts, so it’s extremely important to recycle them responsibly.

Call 2 Recycle accepts rechargeable batteries for recycling funded by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation

Call 2 Recycle accepts rechargeable batteries for recycling funded by the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation

Single-use, or “disposable” batteries no longer contain the most toxic materials, but they do contain recyclable metals, zinc and alkaline. Because there is no widespread, convenient recycling program in the U.S., single-use batteries are wasted into the landfills by the billions each year. These metals can still be hazardous when they leach into underground water sources, and all this waste costs ratepayers millions of dollars. Although single-use batteries can be recycled, battery manufacturers have not yet established the same kind of recycling program they have in place for rechargeable batteries. This is mainly due to just one company: Rayovac.

In 2011, companies such as Energizer, Duracell and Panasonic agreed to form an initiative to fund single-use battery recycling. But Rayovac withdrew and brought the efforts to a halt. The “Corporation for Battery Recycling” or CBR would have provided the same convenient recycling for single-use batteries that now exists for rechargeables, if Rayovac had not pulled out. Here in the U.S., Rayovac claims that throwing batteries in the trash to be landfilled or incinerated poses no threat to the environment. In Europe and Canada, however, Rayovac does participate in manufacturer-based recycling and hypocritically boasts its eco-consciousness. Holiday shoppers in those other countries don’t have to worry about what to do with their batteries. Bah humbug.

This holiday season, if you are shopping for gadgets, do the environment a favor and remember: “Rayovac – Recycling Not Included.”

Social media meme created by Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Social media meme created by Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Please, take a moment to let Rayovac’s CEO know that you are keeping their environmental record in mind when shopping for batteries this holiday buying season, and that if they expect responsible consumers to spend money with them, they need to be responsible with their products.  Email Dave Lumley, CEO of Rayovac’s parent company Spectrum Brands at David.Lumley@spectrumbrands.com, and tell him that you want Rayovac to offer recycling, or you’ll take your business elsewhere!

Help spread this fun image and let people know about how naughty Rayovac has been when it comes to the environment and recycling.  Please, share it on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) and let your friends and allies know: Rayovac needs to embrace—not spurn—battery recycling for its U.S. customers!

Producer TakeBack Get Results

Producer takeback recycling for computers is catching on! In 2010, the second year of the Texas Computer TakeBack Law, manufacturers recycled almost twice what they did in 2009. Now it’s clear that Texans needs similar recycling for TVs. KUT News has more:

“Computer recycling in Texas almost doubled in 2010 compared the year prior, according to the state’s environmental regulator. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says 24.3 million pounds of old hard drives, motherboards and various other computer parts were diverted away from landfills last year. The recycling program was created by the state legislature in 2007. House Bill 2714 requires computer manufacturers who sell in Texas to offer easy recycling programs for their brands of consumers.”

Recycling advocates are encouraged that Representative Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) and Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) have already re-introduced measures on producer takeback for TVs, HB 88 and SB 329 respectively. This legislation has attracted the interest of the electronics companies, electronics recyclers, charities such as Goodwill, the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and thousands of Texans who are writing legislators every month supporting producer takeback recycling.

In addition, it’s clear that the existing Computer TakeBack Law needs more teeth. Just a few manufacturers were responsible for the vast majority of all the computer equipment recycled in Texas in 2010 under the law. Most manufacturers still aren’t doing anywhere near their fair share!

It’s time to stop squandering the benefits of recycling e-waste such as creating jobs for Texans in the recycling sector, conserving resources including rare earth metals and keeping toxins out of our landfills.

Needs Similar Recycling for TVs

An Easy “Green” New Year’s Recycling Resolution

Did the holidays bring you new gadgets? Here’s how to recycle your old ones.

Electronic gadgets were at the top of many holiday shopping lists again this year, with iPads and Kindles fueling a lot of the buying frenzy. The biggest sellers were e-readers, tablet computers, smart phones, HD TVs and video games consoles and accessories.  The Consumer Electronics Association was predicting that the average consumer would spend $232 on electronics this holiday.

So what should you do with the old stuff – the items these shiny new gadgets replaced? Or the even older ones – the dead cell phones, PDAs, and iPods stashed in your dead gadget drawer, or the old printer or TV tucked away in the basement?  It’s pretty easy to keep a recycling resolution, with the help of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s Guide To Recycling Your Electronics. Here are the basics, with a lot more information available on our web based Guide.

Don’t Trash Old Electronics

First, what not to do. The easiest (but worst) thing to do is to toss the old items in the trash. These gadgets contain toxic chemicals, which we don’t want seeping out of landfills and into groundwater, or getting emitted into our air from incinerators. Plus they take up a lot of room in overcrowded landfills. And many contain resources – especially metals – that can be recovered and reused.  So while trashing electronics is still legal in many states, it’s not a good idea. (Check if it’s legal in your state – it might be time to contact your state legislators about tougher laws to keep e-waste out of the trash.)

Reuse

There are many options for reusing or recycling your old electronics. If your old item still works and is pretty current, it can probably be reused. Old tube TVs are usually the exception here, but computers and phones will probably have some reuse value as whole products or parts. Many cities have local, non-profit reuse organizations, which will refurbish electronics for use in local underserved communities. You can usually find these by contacting your local county solid waste agency.  If you don’t find one, consider the National Cristina Foundation, which matches donated computers to charities and agencies, or World Computer Exchange, which sends educational institutions in developing countries the working items they request.

Recycle

If reuse is not an option, then please take it to an electronics recycler. Please make sure your old product gets to a responsible recycler – one who will actually recycle it, and not ship it off to a developing nation, where old electronics are causing terrible health and environmental harm. The best way to do that is to work with a recycler who is part of the e-Stewards network. E-Stewards recyclers adhere to the highest standards in the industry, including a firm commitment not to export non-working or untested e-waste to developing nations.

If there is no e-Steward near you, then there are many takeback programs run by the manufacturers and retailers, most of which are free. See our website’s Guide to Recycling Your Electronics for information and links to all of these programs. Some of these programs have trade-in options, which will give you money back (or credit towards purchases) for certain items, especially cell phones and laptops. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition’s Guide to Recycling Your Electronics includes details on these trade-in options as well.

– Barbara Kyle, Electronics TakeBack Coalition

Story of Electronics: watch, enjoy, share

The Story of Electronics – from the folks who made the wildly popular Story of Stuff web film – explores the high-tech revolution’s collateral damage: 6 billion tons of e-waste and counting, and other (often hidden) consequences for high tech workers, the environment and us. Watch it, then share it with your friends & family on Facebook, via e-mail and on your other social networking sites!

The new web short is raising the profile of high-tech trash worldwide, generating coverage from Discover Magazine, USA Today, The Independent and Fast Company. Help spread the word as the holiday shopping season begins: there are steps we can take today to make sure our high-tech toys don’t come with such a steep environmental price.

Plastic, Disposable UT Tower?

Even one of Austin’s best and brightest institutions is capable of a very bad idea:

More from Austin Business Journal:

“A group of University of Texas alum and environmental activists aren’t happy about plans to market H2Orange, purified water in plastic bottles shaped like UT’s iconic tower. The group is gathering July 23 at UT’s West Campus Mall on Guadalupe Street to protest the plan, saying it undermines Austin’s Zero Waste goal and the campus’ sustainability policy. Instead of using disposable containers, the group is hoping the venture will market ‘a refillable bottle with a UT logo’ as a potential alternative to raising scholarship funds, the group said.”

There are so many ecological and economic problems with bottled water, one hardly knows where to start. Plastic pollution is a serious threat to our ecosystem and although the bottles may be recyclable, there is no guarantee they won’t end up in landfills, incinerators and waterways. In fact, the “great Pacific garbage patch” is larger than Texas and growing every day. And in case you haven’t forgotten about the BP spill: 10% of domestic oil production is used to make plastic products. A great primer is the Story of Bottled Water — check it out!

Spotlight: pharmacuetical waste

Don’t flush or trash your old pills, unless you want them to end up in our drinking water! In 2008, an AP investigation found that “A vast array of pharmaceuticals – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones – have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans.” Not good!

We’d like to see Producer TakeBack programs in place that would make it easy for anyone to return their unused pharmaceuticals. And we’re not the only ones. From the Product Policy Institute:

“The National Association of Counties (NACo), the country’s largest local government organization, has unanimously adopted a policy supporting producer responsibility for unwanted medicines. The expense of taking back unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs would be handled by the pharmaceutical industry, without relying on state or local government funding.”

This won’t be a simple solution; drug enforcement laws can be quite complicated when it comes to recovering old pills. But the principal that the manufacturers should be responsible for their waste should still apply.

In some states and cities, manufacturers are teaming up with local pharmacies and law enforcement agencies to provide free, convenient recycling locations — usually at the nearest drugstore. We’re already seeing the beginnings of such a system in Texas. Here’s a current map of local participating drugstores. Recycle away!