We are all familiar with the concepts of reduce, reuse and recycle. And we all know that the order is not coincidental: it is most important to first reduce your inputs, then reuse what you can and recycle as much as possible of what is left.
It seems simple. But, as anyone who has been involved in recycling can tell you, it isn’t. With a few years of our sustainability journey under our belt, this seems like a good time to share some of our experiences with others who may be just beginning their journey.
One of the goals of The Label Printers’ “Go Green, Save Green and Earn Green!” initiative was to generate income from our recyclables. The question was, why not “turn trash into cash?” That is, why shouldn’t we take items that are recyclable but had been landfilled and get the recovery value from recycling them? It seems like a perfect “win-win” but as we have learned, recycling can present some interesting challenges.
Our program has 17 categories of recyclable materials. And the old adage “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” is especially true with recycling. Having mixed materials can wreak havoc on recyclers and may result in less recycling income as the recycler charges back the cost of sorting the materials or, in an extreme case, rejects the load entirely. It is important to know what your recycler does in these situations.
In addition, some recyclables are more desirable than others. This means that finding a home for some materials is easier and, in certain cases, it may even be difficult to find a destination for some recyclables. It is important to research what recyclers will accept and the value of those items.
Certain recyclers will only accept recyclables in a particular way. For example, the recovery value for cardboard is higher if it is baled. Some recyclers only want it this way so they do not have to bale it or will pay more for baled cardboard. This is helpful to know when you are setting up your program.
Communication can also be a challenge. Trucks don’t show for pickups as scheduled because the request was not communicated correctly at the recycler. In other cases, the wrong size or type of truck may be sent. It is important to establish what is expected of your company and the recycler and when it is needed.
Finding a good recycler is another challenge. Some are not as reputable as you might hope. Load weights at the recycler may vary greatly from the weights before collection. And payments may not be timely or may not be sent until someone follows up with the recycler. Recyclers merge, go out of business and change the materials they are willing to accept. It is important to have at least one backup.
Recycling revenues can also be unpredictable. Prices for recyclables are especially sensitive to the law of supply and demand; they may fluctuate greatly for certain items but remain fairly steady for others. One month a recycler may be anxious to receive your shipment, but the next month you may have difficulty getting your calls returned. And due to the high price of fuel, in some cases a good portion of recycling revenue may be consumed by freight costs.
In the final analysis, nothing important in life is easy. This is especially true with recycling. But making a difference in the environment today and for the future makes it well worth the trouble. And besides, the challenges are what make life interesting!