In honor of America Recycles Day, November 15, we took a look at a day in the life of the CIC recycling program:
How many times has this happened to you? You’ve just finished a hot cup of coffee or a delicious snack in the kitchen, when you look at the time and realize you need to get back to what you were doing. Quick! Where do you throw that wrapper? It’s coated paper, so maybe it’s recycling? Surely it’s recycling. Or, if you’re at CIC Cambridge, where composting is available, perhaps it’s compost, being paper? What to do? You take an educated guess, and get on with your day. But what if you knew the inside scoop on recycling at Impact Hub and CIC, and knew exactly how to make all those recycling decisions? I recently spoke with Liz Vaughan, Community Manager at CIC, and learned that there is more to single-stream recycling than meets the eye–and knowing more can make your life easier and greener.
CIC and Impact Hub, like many commercial buildings and local communities in America, participates in what is called single-stream recycling. Also known as commingled, this type of recycling involves combining all recyclables–paper, glass, plastic–into single containers, leaving them to be sorted by the waste management provider. Only compost is separated out, along with regular trash. CIC Cambridge, the original CIC location, has been single-stream since its inception, says Liz, noting that CIC has strived to be a leader within the 1 Broadway community to ensure that the entire building follows sustainable practices. It helps with recent efforts, she notes, that both locations have pursued LEED certification, a program that attests to the sustainability of building construction and operations, and that requires robust recycling programs. One other facet of LEED is that buildings that have food services on premise (such as a restaurant) are awarded points for composting. This helped spur building-wide support for composting at 1 Broadway. (At press time, composting is in the works for 50 Milk).
Liz notes that recycling is more complex than many people realize. For instance, many products perceived as recyclable or compostable are not. One example: disposable coffee cups. Coffee cups might be branded to look “green,” however, just because something is made of recycled material, doesn’t mean it can go back in the stream and be recycled again. Compostable cups are made with corn plastic coating; the processes at many farms that accept commercial-building composts don’t always work with these cups. It took some time to find a vendor who offers industrial composting, the kind that truly does compost at least the majority of those “compostable” disposable materials. Liz and her team have worked hard to find waste management providers who can compost the maximum number of products, find markets for recycled materials, and handle it all seamlessly.
Even then, the big picture of recycling is still one that requires careful planning from everyone, from industrial designers to facilities managers. It’s important to note that recycling is a business: what we throw in the trash needs to find a buyer in order to be made into new products, so it’s important to understand the full product lifecycle. Is the product manufactured to be easily recycled? Is there a product that the recycled material can be turned into, and how is that product manufactured? When you look at the big picture, it’s clear that cross-industry collaboration is key to finding sustainable solutions. Talking to Liz, it was clear that recycling is a wide-ranging topic that brings together fields from chemistry to agriculture to graphic design.
Which brings us back to the kitchen. It all starts when we, as Hubbers and CICers, make the call of what to throw into which bin. Here’s where Liz says there is still some confusion–so don’t feel alone! Below are some of the most commonly misunderstood items, with the real scoop on each:
It’s dispelling myths like this, in order to facilitate effective consumer action, that is the inspiration for America Recycles Day. Urging Americans to Take the Pledge to recycle specific items, Keep America Beautiful, the organization behind today, asks Americans to engage in a 3-part initiative: Learn, Act, Share:
Learn: The first step is learning what your recycling options are. Check out the graphic above, the signage in the kitchens, and information in your local community.
Act: Take the extra step to sort your trash, organize your home recycling, take the pledge.
Share: Tweet, Facebook, and spread the word face-to-face in the office and in your community.