The inaugural Waste360 Recycling Summit brought together more than 350 professionals from all parts of the recycling spectrum—government, municipalities, generators and suppliers to explore and discuss the opportunities and challenges facing today's recycling industry.
The summit is taking place at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency O’Hare hotel. It is produced in partnership with the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) as a three-day event that brings together industry thought leaders, practitioners, customers and manufacturers to discuss the industry’s challenges and opportunities.
Thursday’s events included a series of educational sessions, a keynote address from Barnes Johnson, the director of the EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery, and new awards from the NWRA.
Here are 15 takeaways from the first full day at the conference.
- Kimberly Worthington, deputy commissioner, City of Chicago, Department of Fleet & Facility Management, Bureau of Environmental, Health & Safety Management; Sue Long, environmental impact manager, global responsibility & public education, Starbucks Coffee Co.; and Rachel Goldstein, global sustainability director, Mars Inc.; kicked things off with the Consumer Sustainability Panel.
- Goldstein said Mars’ goals included achieving zero waste to landfills by 2015. As of 2014, it was 79 percent of the way to that goal. “As a private company, we can take a longer term view,” Goldstein said. Mars also has five operating principles, which include “Quality, Mutuality, Responsibility, Efficiency and Freedom.”
- One issue Mars has faced is that increasing the amount of recycled content in its packaging comes into conflict with the goal of lightweighting its packaging. “We need newer, more holistic goals and to think about end-of-life goals for packaging,” she said.
- Starbucks’ Long said the company has a goal of achieving a 100 percent customer recycling rate at its 7,400 U.S. stores. Currently, that rate stands at 47 percent. An issue the company faces is that the recycling containers in its U.S. stores have 52 different sets of signages because of differences in rules and regulations across the country.
- Worthington talked about how the city had reorganized its personnel to embed environmental expertise across departments. “It has made sustainability part of our day-to-day operations rather than this special thing another department does,” she said. Long added that “sustainability won't be successful unless it’s part of the everyday work of the whole company.”
- Long pointed out that a large portion of the waste stream from Starbucks locations is recyclable or divertable from landfills—up to 85 percent depending on where the store is. “So it's important that we get recycling and composting services to our stores because we can divert a lot of material,” she said.
- A session on “Managing Contamination” featured Karen Bandauer, project director, The Recycling Partnership; Julie Colehour, principal & social marketing connoisseur, C+C Public Relations & Social Marketing; and Greg Supernau, education & outreach coordinator, City of Springfield, Mass. It was moderated by Susan Robinson, director of public affairs, Waste Management
- All of the speakers emphasizing the necessity of simple communications when educating consumers about contamination.
- Colehour argued that, “We have a confused public and that's led to increased contamination on what we've seen in carts.” She also pointed out that most educational programs geared towards consumers focus on awareness and understanding. “Instead, we need to be working more on relevance,” she said.
- As Bandauer put it, “To a resident, the mechanics of recycling look and feel similar to trash collection. But that's where the similarities end…. Trash is the end of the supply chain. Recycling is the start of a supply chain.”
- During his lunch keynote, Johnson, director of the office of resource conservation & recovery with the EPA, reflected on the passage of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as it approaches its 40th anniversary. He lauded the accomplishments achieved in that time span. “By any measure, it’s been an influential statute and has led the way for lots of states and local efforts in this area.”
- Johnson also talked about recycling facing a number of challenges. Those include volatility in commodities markets and prices; pressure from customers demanding higher quality and increased expectations that collections will be single stream. “We have complex single streams tasked with producing high value products. It's a real challenge,” he said.
- He added, “People need to understand what the real tradeoffs are and the real implications are when you decide to put something in the land forever.”
- Johnson also lauded the benefits of the circular economy. “We need to consider the attributes of products from design and development all the way through use and recovery,” he said.
- In a panel discussing the state of food waste, Steven Finn, vice president, Casella Organics, said, “Food waste recycling is where traditional recycling was 25 to 30 years ago.” He pointed to a lack of infrastructure, a wide variety of approaches, patchwork regulations and the belief that consumers would not readily adapt as all being similar to the notions surround recycling before its widespread adoption.