Since I started at Recology a few years ago, one of the most common questions I receive surrounds both the environmental and economic impact of recycling. It’s usually in some form of: “How could the environmental and financial costs of sorting, shipping and processing of recyclables be favorable to simply sending the material to the landfill?”
The answer to this question is based on the cost and environmental impact of recycling facility operations – sorting recyclables and shipping the material for processing so they can be reintroduced to the market. From a cost perspective, can these efforts and the resources used be advantageous to sending the material to the landfill? Yes, both financially and environmentally.
That said there are two important considerations that must be included in the discussion:
The first is evaluating the difference between producing new products from recycled versus virgin material. Recycling aluminum, for example, can reduce energy consumption by as much as 95%. Savings for other materials are lower, but still substantial: about 70% for plastics, 60% for steel, 40% for paper, and 30% for glass. (1) In all cases, the energy savings are significant and well worth the effort to recover them.
The second are externalities, which are the un-priced, outside benefits that recycling produces. These include decreased air pollution from mills and factories, less water contamination from landfills, and reduced resource consumption. All of which have a financial and environmental cost. The process for obtaining and processing virgin materials is not often associated with recycling. We all know that mining, drilling and logging are activities that are detrimental to the environment, but since we aren’t paying for them on our monthly garbage bill, these factors are oftentimes overlooked.
When we really delve into the economics of recycling, it’s easier to understand if we look at the big picture. The energy used to separate and process our recyclable material is offset by the amount of energy it would take to extract virgin materials and create new products. So, there is much more to consider than the cost we see on our garbage bills, and it also makes a lot of sense to think about our garbage as materials or commodities to be re-used in the future.
(1)” The truth about recycling“, The Economist, June 2007
The last few months proved to be significant for California’s environmentalists and waste & recycling industry alike. In addition to signing SB 270, the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1826 (Chesbro), requiring commercial businesses to begin recycling organics.
According to Assembly Bill 1826, organics include “food waste, green waste, landscape and pruning waste, nonhazardous wood waste, and food-soiled paper waste that is mixed in with food waste.” By spring 2016, restaurants, grocery stores, and other commercial food and yard waste producers generating at least 8 cubic yards of organics per week will be required to separate their organics and properly send the materials to an organics processing facility.
Most notably, the move towards large-scale organics recycling will reduce the amount of food scraps and yard waste headed to landfills, and increase materials headed for anaerobic digestion and composting facilities. The influx of organic materials to processing facilities will be converted to renewable energy through anaerobic digestion, or composted for use on local farms.
By signing AB 1826…Governor Brown ensured that all of California shares in the environmental, agricultural, and economic benefits of organics recycling with reduced local emissions of greenhouse gases, new jobs and valuable compost for our farms and vineyards – Mike Sangiacomo, President & CEO, Recology
Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro adds, “Landfilled food and other organic materials produce methane, a major contributor to climate change,” Chesbro said. “Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps 21 times more heat than carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas created by the burning of fossil fuels.”
Rural areas, however, are exempt: “‘Rural jurisdiction’ means a jurisdiction that is located entirely within one or more rural counties, or a regional agency comprised of jurisdictions that are located within one or more rural counties…’Rural county’ means a county that has a total population of less than 70,000 persons.”
Commercial organics recycling is a step forward in terms of increasing the State’s diversion percentages and reducing landfill tonnages. The end goal, however, will always be to return resources and nutrients back to the environment where they originated. We think it will help accomplish all of these goals.
We’ve seen how the “eat local” movement has gained a lot of attention recently. Local farmers’ markets and family farms are plentiful in and around the Bay Area, yet many people may not understand what it means to eat locally, or why it’s even important.
Generally, local food is defined as food that has traveled less than 400 miles from producer to consumer. Less travel time means a significant reduction in transportation costs and environmental impact. Eating locally not only has a direct impact on reducing energy use and global climate change, but it supports local economies and has a positive impact on local communities.
A few interesting facts about food consumption in the United States:
Did you know…much of the food purchased in grocery stores today is often imported from other countries?
Did you know…the average American meal contains ingredients imported from five different countries?
Did you know…the transportation of our food translates to massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions, a leading greenhouse gas and major contributor to climate change?
Did you know…the import of fruits, nuts, and vegetables in California by airplane resulted in 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which is the equivalent of 12,000 cars on the road?
Buying, fresh, healthy foods from local farmers, fisherman, and ranchers, helps support our local economy, reduces carbon emissions, and best of all – it tastes delicious! Below are some links to local resources that offer an abundance of fresh and natural foods. Bon Appétit!
Below are a few resources for San Mateo County residents and businesses to purachse locally grown food:
Recology San Mateo County (Recology) would like to congratulate this year’s BizSMART @ Work Award winners. Recology’s team thrives on working with the businesses and multi-family complexes to help them increase their diversion levels.
Recology works closely with customers by providing waste audits, cost savings analyses, internal recycling and compost containers, recycle buddy bags, posters, in addition to other outreach materials, and onsite trainings and presentations. With these tools, Recology’s Waste Zero Specialist can identify what technical assistance each customer needs to educate their staff and reduce waste going to the landfill.
Award categories include Recycle, Compost, and a combined Recycle and Compost. The winners for this year’s awards are as follows:
Diddams Party Store, San Carlos
Sand Cove Apartments, Foster City
300 Alpine Road LLC, West Bay Sanitary District
Bayshore Christian Ministries, East Palo Alto
Donato Enoteca, Redwood City
Milagros, Redwood City
Menlo Circus Club, Atherton
Oak Grove HOA/Manor, Menlo Park
Papillon Preschool, San Mateo
Promontory Point, Foster City
Recycling and Composting Category:
Abbott Vascular, Menlo Park
Back Yard Coffee Company, Redwood City
Catered Too, East Palo Alto
Embarcadero Capital Partners LLC, Belmont
Hassett Hardware, San Mateo
Impossible Foods, Inc., Redwood City
Kingston Café, San Mateo
The Plant Cafe, Burlingame
Rocket Fuel, Redwood City
Sweet Production, San Carlos
Villa Lucia’s Pizza, San Mateo County
The public also had a chance to select the 2014 Rethinker’s Choice Award by voting for their favorite nominees selected from the Recycle and Compost category winners through the RethinkWaste website. The winner of the 2014 Rethinkers’ Choice Award will be announced at the luncheon.
The nominees for the 2014 Rethinker’s Choice Award are:
Abbott Vascular, Redwood City
Back Yard Coffee Company, Redwood City
Embarcadero Capital Partners LLC, Belmont
Kingston Café, San Mateo
Sweet Production, San Carlos
We first turned our attention to food waste in 1996 when Recology implemented a food scraps collection program in San Francisco. Still in use today, the green bin program ensures that organic material, such as food scraps and yard trimmings, do not end up in landfills. Many other Recology companies and cities have implemented similar programs, including San Mateo County and San Bruno. You can learn more about the affects of landfilling organics here: US Composting Council – Keeping Organics out of Landfills.
Although we think it’s important to recycle food scraps when possible, we think it’s just as important to consider ways to reduce food waste altogether.
Americans throw away 40% of their food, according to The National Resources Defense Council.
The environmental impact of wasted food is fairly large. Imagine the amount of energy, oil, and water is used to produce and transport food across the United States, from farms to cities, and from cities to rural areas.
By preventing food from even entering a bin, we significantly reduce financial and environmental impacts. Here are a few small, but impactful tips for reducing your food waste.
- Plan your meals, buy what you need – There’s a fine line between purchasing enough food and buying too much. Planning your meals for the week will help you stick to a plan, meaning you’re less likely to toss expired food.
- Learn more about expiration dates – Foods that are edible after the marked expiration date is surprising. The use-by dates don’t always indicate spoiled food, but then again it’s good to know which foods are more sensitive to these dates than others.
- Freeze unused food – Utilize your freezer. If you’re unable to finish the pot pie you made last night, freeze portions for quick lunches and dinners.
- Take your lunch or share your leftovers– Using leftovers for meals at work is the best way to use excess food. Pack leftovers in your kids’ lunch, or share with coworkers, family, or friends if you know you’re not going to finish it.
- Proper storage – Learn how to store fruit and vegetables. It’s important to keep pre-cut and chopped produce in the refrigerator in sealed containers.
Recology Western Oregon Partners with Local Veteran to Restore and Donate Thousands of Bicycles in Yamhill County
Three years ago, Dean Williams, a retired Vietnam Veteran from Amity, OR, noticed a few perfectly good bikes on a pile of scrap metal at a nearby waste facility. At the time, his granddaughter’s bike was recently stolen, so he went in to ask about purchasing one.
From that day on, Dean has been dedicated to refurbishing and donating bikes to local schools, probation departments, the Yamhill County Action Partnership (YCAP), police departments, church groups, and other local community organizations. Many of the donated bikes are the primary mode of transportation for recipients, members of the community who do not have access to a vehicle use the bikes to commute to work or school.
By early 2014, Dean’s project had become so successful, he’d run into a problem: his home’s driveway was full of salvaged parts, and he needed more tools and resources to continue his project.
Recology Western Oregon (RWO) decided to help. Dean’s project embraces RWO’s mission to achieve “Waste Zero” by finding a new life for previously discarded materials. It also provides a sustainable form of transportation for local children and families in need.
To help Dean’s project grow, RWO established a new Bike Shop at the RWO Valley Recovery Zone in McMinnville, OR. Dean has been provided with tools, storage space, and access to discarded bike parts at the facility. Even the shop’s benches and tables carry a message of sustainability – Dean salvaged lumber from RWO wood piles to build the work benches.
The shop is also serves as an education center where members of the community can learn basic bike maintenance and repair. Dean and RWO hope to educate the public on the importance of reuse and recycle, ensuring fewer resources end up in the scrap pile.
Dean has repaired and donated over 1,600 bikes as of May 2014, and with the help of RWO, his mission continues to expand. A box of bikes is currently being prepared for shipment to Africa, and Dean also plans to expand his collection efforts to other Recology operations along the Oregon Coast and Washington State.
Dean’s story began as one person’s passion to turn trash into treasure; today, it’s become a model reuse and recycle program. If you’d like more information or would like to get involved in the project, please stop by the “Bike Shop” at RWO’s Valley Recovery Zone, or send an email to email@example.com.
In honor of International Compost Awareness Week (May 5 – 11), an initiative created by the US Composting Council, we’re sharing our thoughts on this years focus: “Compost: The Solution to Sustainable Soil and Water.”
The traditional reasons to participate in a curbside compost program are to keep materials out of landfills and to return nutrients, in the form of compost, to local farms and vineyards. Those nutrients give farmers a viable alternative to using synthetic fertilizers and help farmers grow healthy food that comes back to the city to support our good health.
But there is a third great reason to compost: It helps California, our home state, save water – tremendous amounts of water.
Compost is 50 percent humus by weight. Humus is organic matter that helps soil retain moisture. Humus is a form of carbon; it both attracts and holds water. When we apply compost to an orchard, farm, or vineyard, we increase the amount of humus in the farm’s soil, and thereby increase the capacity of the soil to withstand drought conditions.
Farmers like to apply compost because doing so helps their soil and their crops get the full benefit of any rain or irrigation. This is particularly important for orchards, which require a lot of irrigation.
Here is a key statistic: If we increase organic matter by one percent on one acre of land by adding compost and by farming environmentally, we can save 16,500 gallons of water per year. Imagine how much water we could save if every city in California participated in a compost collection programs, sending a lot more compost to local farms.
Knowing that composting is a highly effective way to help California save water, many Recology employee-owners have an increased motive to participate in Recology’s green-bin programs. We are doing a good job of composting scraps and plant cuttings in many areas like San Francisco, but we can do much better. What can an individual do on a daily basis to help? Place all food scraps and plant cuttings in the green bin for curbside collection. Also, we can place all food-soiled paper, things like used paper napkins and towels, in the green bin (soiled paper has short fibers – microorganisms in compost like short paper fibers). Soiled paper in a kitchen compost pail or curbside compost bin will also absorb moisture, which will help control odor.
Recology set the trend when we started an urban compost collection program in San Francisco in 1996 to reduce landfill disposal and turn food scraps into compost. Now we can help our state save great amounts of water by extending our good green habit and composting all of our scraps, plant cuttings, and soiled paper.
Recology San Francisco Artist in Residence Exhibitions: Work by Matthew Gottschalk, Jamil Hellu and Claire Lynch
The Artist in Residence Program at Recology San Francisco will host an exhibition and reception for current artists-in-residence Matthew Gottschalk, Jamil Hellu, and student artist Claire Lynch on Friday, May 23, from 5-9pm and Saturday, May 24, from 1-3pm. Additional viewing hours will be held on Tuesday, May 27, from 5-7pm, followed by a gallery walk-through with the artists at 7pm. This exhibition will be the culmination of four months of work by the artists who have scavenged materials from the dump to make art and promote recycling and reuse.
Matthew Gottschalk: From the Belly of the Whale
Matthew Gottschalk has looked to explorers such as Jacques Cousteau and Carl Sagan for inspiration while on his own epic adventure at the dump. Gottschalk, who in the past has used marionette puppets as protagonists in installations that include sculpture and video components, has crafted a Carl Sagan puppet to explore the cosmos of the Recology facility. Through the use of touchstones of popular culture—and an ever-engaging marionette—Gottschalk brings playfulness to deeper questions of what it means to be human.
Work alludes to Joseph Campbell’s concepts of the “hero’s journey” and universal myths, as well as to the primal human need to bring order and meaning to the world around us through such stories. Gottschalk also references the dangers and mysteries of space and oceanographic exploration; his series of harpoons made from materials including baseball bats and fireplace pokers suggest conquest and being “in the belly of the whale”—both literally and metaphorically—connecting to his own process of hunting for materials in the Public Disposal and Recycling Area. Much like the real Carl Sagan’s “Golden Record,” a collection of audio recordings and photographs representing aspects of life on earth sent into space with the hope that it might one day be found, Gottschalk’s marionette Carl Sagan has collected the evidence of life on earth through its detritus so that we may better know ourselves. Gottschalk will also create a soundtrack for the journey played on revived and newly created musical instruments.
Gottschalk holds an MFA from Mills College, a BA in studio art from the University of California at Davis, and has studied at Yale. He was the recipient of a fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany, and he has exhibited his artwork and videos in Nevada City, California; Stuttgart and Kassel, Germany; Gaza, Palestine; and Rijeka, Croatia.
Jamil Hellu: Portraits
The images photographer Jamil Hellu has made during his Recology residency explore a range of ideas related to identity and portraiture. Examining how we create and negotiate our identities throughout our lives, Hellu looks at our memories via objects, and contemplates the pivotal influences that shape who we are. The work questions the shifting nature of identity and the many roles we play in our personal and professional lives. In some cases, Hellu places the things he has photographed alongside their images and brings poignancy to mundane yet once cherished items. He also replicates scenes in found photographs that are simultaneously humorous and touching, pointing to commonalities between seemingly different people.
Work also explores identity in crisis and what it means to dispose of key markers of identity in a place like the public dump. If throwing away things, especially photographs, is a metaphor for the loss of individual identity, then the dump pile, becomes a homogenous monument to general human experience. Illustrating this is Hellu’s shredded pile of one-hundred snapshots of people at the Golden Gate Bridge—both a permanent erasure of these specific memories and an evocation of the universal significance this destination holds in people’s lives. Other photographs expand on this Bay Area and California love, as well as a love of photography itself.
Born in Brazil, Hellu received an MFA from Stanford University and a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. He has been a recipient of a Graduate Student Fellowship from the Headlands Center for the Arts and received a residency at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. His recent series of photographs, Guardians of the Golden Gate, which capture friends in superhero guises of their own choosing in locations around the Bay Area, has been the subject of national media coverage.
Claire Lynch: Befriending Demons
In a series of large-scale, abstract, sculptural bird forms, Claire Lynch explores difficult human emotions and how we negotiate and deal with these feelings. Of particular interest to Lynch are feelings such as tension, anger, or discomfort—emotions universally experienced, yet often condemned as socially unacceptable to express. Lynch explores the role these emotions have in shaping who we are, and how sometimes the things that are the most difficult to navigate provide space for the greatest growth. Four sculptures each address different responses to these emotions and represent concealment, routine, balance, and embrace. Together they point to the need to acknowledge and understand the place these feelings have in our lives.
Claire Lynch will receive her BA in studio art from Stanford University this June. She has taught art at the American Overseas School of Rome Summer Program in Italy, and at the Potomac School Summer Program in McLean, Virginia. While a student at Stanford, Lynch has worked as an assistant at the Stanford University Art Gallery, and as a fabricator.
About the Recology Artist in Residence Program
Since 1990, the Artist in Residence Program at Recology San Francisco has encouraged the conservation of natural resources while instilling a greater appreciation for art and the environment in children and adults. This one-of-a-kind program enables artists to work in studio space on site for four months, use materials recovered from the Public Disposal and Recycling Area, and speak to students and the general public about reuse and their residency experiences. Over one-hundred professional Bay Area artists have completed residencies. Applications are accepted annually in August.
Reception- Friday, May 23, 2014, 5-9pm
Reception-Saturday, May 24, 2014, 1-3pm
Additional viewing hours-Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 5-7pm with gallery walk-through with artists at 7pm
Art Studio located at 503 Tunnel Ave. and Environmental Learning Center Gallery at 401 Tunnel Ave., San Francisco, CA
Admission is free and open to the public, all ages welcome, wheelchair accessible. http://www.recologysf.com/AIR
Unwanted or worn out clothes and other textiles, such as fabrics woven from thread or yarn, can be recycled through Recology’s RecycleMyJunk program. SF Residents can call (415) 330-1300 to schedule a pickup or email us through the “contact us” form on our website, RecycleMyJunk.com.
Our textile recycling program also accepts backpacks, purses, belts, and shoes. Recology will take all textiles, even if torn or ripped, as long as they are dry. When placing textiles by the curb for your scheduled pickup, please bundle them with string or place them in a box or bag clearly labeled “Textiles.”
RecycleMyJunk is an appointment-based program and part of the collection services we provide in San Francisco under City oversight. To view program rules go to RecycleMyJunk.com. Residential customers can now include boxes and bundles of textiles without them counting toward the per-collection item limit. Residential customers can also request “Textile Only” collections at no additional charge.
Recology donates textiles collected through the RecycleMyJunk program to St. Vincent de Paul Society, who sorts and re-purposes the materials.
Recology San Mateo County invites you to participate in our Earth Day Giveaway on Facebook. As we gear up for Earth Day on April 22nd, we’re asking San Mateo County residents and businesses to share their tips, photos, or videos that illustrate how they are “going green” this Earth Week.
How to enter:
- “Like” Recology San Mateo County on Facebook.
- Share a green tip, photo, or video on our Facebook page using the hash tag #EarthDay2014 by 10 am on Tuesday, April 22nd to be eligible for the giveaway.
- Share your entry with friends!
Winners will receive a $50 Whole Foods gift card and earth-friendly goodies, including garden-ready herbs, compost, reusable water bottle and bag. Winners will be chosen by number of likes, shares, and Recology staff votes. The winner will be announced on our Facebook page on April 22nd, Earth Day!
How will you celebrate Earth Day? #EarthDay2014
Terms and Conditions:
- Must be 18 years or older to participate, and be a resident or employee in San Mateo County. Recology employee-owners are not eligible to enter, however friends and family of employee-owners are encouraged to participate.
- By entering this contest, you agree to a complete release of Facebook from any or all liability in connection with this giveaway. All entries then become the property of Recology Inc.
- The RSMC Earth Day Giveaway is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook.