Truck Wraps Deliver Words of Wisdom, Inspire Recycling
Every year, Salt Lake City’s low-emission waste collection trucks get a new look. In years past, the vehicles highlighted downsizing your garbage cans, the beauty of recycling, and the goal to ditch disposables. This year, the truck wraps deliver words of wisdom to inspire more thoughtful consumption and better recycling habits.
Taking a Cue from Annie Leonard, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Robert Swan
One side of this year’s truck wraps display useful mantras encouraging SLC residents to recycle. The other side features quotes from three prominent environmental activists:
Annie Leonard is the founder of The Story of Stuff Project, which advocates for reducing our consumption and being more thoughtful about where our stuff goes. As her truck wrap quote says: there’s no such thing as away.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an environmental activist and former senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He currently serves as president of the grassroots Waterkeeper Alliance. His quote succinctly emphasizes the impact of sustainable living on our country’s well being.
Echoing Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s sentiment, Robert Swan’s quote is a call to action for every individual to take steps towards protecting the environment. Robert Swan is a climate activist and the first person to walk to the North and South pole. His organization, 2041, works to educate the public about the impact of climate change on the environment, especially at the poles.
By quoting these leaders, the truck wraps pinpoint the importance of community action geared towards protecting the environment and building sustainable communities.
One of the easiest ways to follow in the footsteps of these activists is to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Is Recycling Still Worth It?
Presented on the flip sides of the trucks are statistics about SLC’s waste management habits. In particular, they emphasize the importance of proper waste diversion in the form of recycling and composting.
Does that surprise you? With recycling changing as markets adjusted to new rules from China on contamination, there has been question as to whether recycling is even “worth it” any more.
We’re here to tell you it is and that’s a key point we wanted to emphasize with the new truck wrap designs. Let’s take a moment to dig in to that detail:
The recycling import ban that came from China in 2018 has complex causes and also underscores that recycling is a commodity market that has always experienced ups and downs.
But there is good news amid the shake-up. In particular, it’s forcing U.S. recycling processors and consumers to get back to basics: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle . . . Properly.
Why? Over the last decade, the massive influx of hard-to-recycle plastics and packaging, combined with dirty recyclables, meant that many of these low-value plastics did not actually get recycled, but ended up in Asian landfills, or worse– the environment.
That’s why China cracked down and recycling programs changed across the United States. Even here in Salt Lake City, as you may recall, we had to make some changes last year — with a big focus around eliminating plastic bags and film, which constituted the majority of our contamination.
Soft plastics, plastic film, and shredded paper have been eliminated from Salt Lake City’s “accepted” list because they can’t be properly recycled in our blue bins.
Hard plastic containers, paper, aluminum and other metal cans, cardboard are high-value products that are readily recyclable. This includes glass– when it’s separated– as in our glass recycling program.
This is the type of recycling we need more of.
Have confidence: Everything that is listed as “accepted” in Salt Lake City is recycled and is not landfilled or warehoused. Plastics commonly referred to as #3-#7 are used as alternative fuel at a cement plant until a suitable recycling market returns.
In Salt Lake City, we are above-average with our diversion rate. (“Diversion” is waste-speak for material diverted from the landfill. The “diversion rate” includes recycling and compost).
One wrap points out that SLC residents recycle or compost 40% of our waste. This figure is the diversion number by weight. That’s pretty good, but that’s still a whole lot of valuable and recyclable paper, cardboard, metal, hard plastics, and glass that could be recycled but aren’t!
Accordingly, if people recycle and compost more from the get-go, Salt Lake City can increase this percentage! Another wrap tells us that an average of 750 tons of materials are recycled each month.
One of our primary tasks at SLCgreen– and the point of advertising these stats on our current truck wraps– is simply to show that if more people recycled the basics, we would go very far in increasing our community’s overall sustainability performance, without doing anything else to improve the recycling system (which is also happening in parallel).
So– should you have faith in our recycling system here in Salt Lake City? The answer is an unequivocal yes!
Why do these truck emphasize recycling so much? Recycling has a real impact on our waste management system. Recycling correctly will help our community become more sustainable and closer to zero waste.
According to the May 2018 Fact Sheet, an average month of recycling in Salt Lake City saves 7,379 mature trees, 3,030 cubic yards of landfill space, 2,353,583 kWh of electricity (enough to power 225 homes), 2,604 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and 4,011,430 gallons of water (the daily needs of 50,000 people).
In order to keep up with the newest demands , Salt Lake City’s contracted recycling vendor, Waste Management, will have a new Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) opening in 2020. The facility will be able to process over 700 tons of recycled materials a day and will produce a cleaner, higher-value end product.
As Robert Swan’s quote implies, it is up to all of us together to help protect the planet. One place to start is at home by helping to divert recyclables and compostable yard and kitchen waste correctly. The SLCgreen’s Waste & Recycling page has detailed information about what goes in the recycling and compost bins as well as alternative resources for hard to recycle materials including plastic film and hazardous waste.
Don’t Forget the Other Rs
Recycling and composting are some of the best ways to help reduce waste. But it is important to remember Annie Leonard’s message and become a more careful consumer by using fewer materials that will end up in the landfill and composting and recycling when you can. Reduce first, then reuse, and then recycle.
Have you seen the trucks around town? Let us know what you think!
Everything changes with time. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle now has “Refuse” as the first in the 4Rs!